julie walking home (2003)


director: agnieszka holland

miranda otto, lothaire bluteau, william fichtner

It probably says a lot about some kind of ongoing crisis in spirituality that when a film like Agnieszka Hollandís Julie Walking Home tries to deal with faith, it has to do so circumspectly, through that most dubious of quasi-religious phenomena - faith-healing.

Miranda Otto plays Julie, an inner city mom who comes home early one day and discovers her husband (the always watchable William Fichtner) in bed with another woman. She leaves him with reasonable haste, but they begin finding their way to a reconciliation when their youngest child is diagnosed with a brain tumour.

With actors of Otto and Fichtnerís caliber, the story of their marriage might have been enough - that is, if the director and her collaborators had decided to spend more time on a screenplay that focused on mere domestic tribulation, or had more faith in its ability to flesh out their characters.

But once the medical drama takes over the film, Holland introduces Lothaire Bluteauís Alexis, a Polish faith healer whose reputation convinces Julie to fly to Poland and follow him around, curing her child with his miraculous course of ďtreatmentĒ.

Bluteau essays yet another in his gallery of sickly ascetics; his Alexis is a sunken-cheeked saint, a tortured soul whose ďgiftĒ has cut him off from the human beings who flock to him for his saving touch. In short order, he begins an affair with Julie that compels him to leave both Poland and his calling, with painful results.

Itís interesting - and more than a bit telling - that the faith healer manages to work his miracle with Julieís little boy without any apparent religious motivation or inspiration. In fact, the only character who regards Alexisí apparent gift as God-given is Julieís fatherís mistress, a Polish mail-order bride pointedly depicted as both crass and naÔve.

Itís bad enough when a story like Julie Walking Home lacks the conviction of its most conventional elements - the domestic melodrama - but itís even more depressing when it bets its dramatic stake on a fantastic concept like faith-healing without any intention of exploring the idea of faith. It feels, in the end, like a huge and disappointing failure of spirit, no pun intended.