Why do you think God made sex?

Religion at the BerlinaleDo you still believe

"Grâce à Dieu", "Praise be to God" or "Thank God" - under this pious title the French director Francois Ozon deals with the ultimate failure of a religious institution: with the sexualized abuse of public officials on children, in his case Film with a real case that is still shaking the Archdiocese of Lyon. The archdiocese did what the Catholic Church always did: if the complaints got too loud, the priest was transferred. And was silent.

Those affected gain linguistic sovereignty

"We didn't even try to get funding from Lyon or the region, all the relevant bodies in Catholic Lyon are too closely interwoven with the church. But I wanted to be able to work freely."

Says director François Ozon. He remains consistently with those affected, showing how they at least regain the linguistic sovereignty of interpretation. That makes the film a bit bulky, but also gives it weight.

"I realized very quickly that I am not making a political film, there would be solutions, we are making a citizen film, a civil film, and the film ends with a question."

This question is general enough to be able to name it: Do you still believe in God? Because that is the amazing thing: Here too, the director remains close to the descriptions of those affected: Not everyone broke with faith, even with the Church, despite their terrible experiences. The victims are honest in their brokenness, the institution hides behind phrases. Among other things, director Ozon was able to fall back on the correspondence of a person concerned with the archdiocese.

The woman who jumped at the crucifix

The director of another film even received mail from the highest ecclesiastical authority about her project: the Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska asked the church leadership of the Orthodox Church in Macedonia for support with her film.

The reply letter said: we don't want anything to do with your film. God exists and he's a man, says the director. Your film title is the direct answer to the church letter: "God exists, her name is Petrunya". God exists - her name is Petrunya.

Petrunya is a smart, educated young woman - that doesn't help her to find her place in life in traditional Macedonian society. On Epiphany, Petrunya happened to pass the river just as the local priest threw a crucifix into the water. A widespread rite in Macedonia is that whoever fishes the cross out of the water has a happy year ahead of them. Unspoken, but clear to everyone: this only refers to men. But Petrunya jumps into the water, grabs the cross - and doesn't give it back. Even when the priest yells at them, even when all the men band together. There actually was such a woman a few years ago, says director Teona Strugar Mitevska:

69th Berlinale: Actress Zorica Nusheva (left) and director Teona Strugar Mitevska (right) at the photocall for the film "God exists, her name is Petrunya" (imago / snapshot)

"She said: listen, I caught the cross, because I was a better swimmer then the rest of the men. I don't understand why I cannot keep it? And then she said: Don't I also have the right to be happy for the next year? "

In Macedonia the Orthodox Church has entered into an unholy alliance with the state and the church, which must be broken. The director relies on courageous women. But here, too, as in the film "Grâce à Dieu": This fight against the institution says nothing about the beliefs of the individual. Petrunya has a thoroughly intimate relationship with the Lord on the cross.

Consolation in a sect?

The question of whether religion is helpful or restrictive when there is no seemingly overpowering institution becomes more subtle. Like in the Chinese film "A Dog barking at the moon". Yes, a wealthy bourgeois wife has got caught up in a Buddhist sect here. Golden Buddhas adorn the apartment, and she donates a lot of money for intimate meditation sessions. But doesn't she also have a lot of problems? The man is homosexual, the marriage a farce, for which she has sacrificed her great love, the daughter estranged. Wouldn't it be presumptuous to condemn the only consolation just because the religious personnel get rich in the process?

Even a religiosity that is toxic from the outside can comfort the individual. However, it can also destroy them in the process. The Guatemalan film "Temblores" is dedicated to precisely this topic. Director Jayro Bustamante has set his film in the milieu of an evangelical-charismatic community.

The main character Pablo actually wants to escape this milieu. He left his wife and family and moved in with his boyfriend. But if he lives as a homosexual, he will lose his children and generally the place in life that he has always taken for granted as a man. "Have you done something to be healed?" Asks Pablo's wife. And Pablo's mother asks in church prayer for strength for her apparently somehow damaged son. That's why Pablo lets himself into a so-called healing, even if it will destroy him. In a society as religious as Guatemala, religion is tied into a network of expectations from which the individual can hardly escape, says director Jayro Bustamante.

"I didn't want to talk about the subject because of the taboo, but because it restricts freedom. And that's why" Temblores "is not only about homosexuality, but also about machismo, oppression and misogyny."

Sex, Faith, and Government Surveillance

The Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro is even more subtle. He too places his film in the evangelical milieu. "Divino Amor" is set in a slightly futuristic Brazil. The prevailing belief is closely linked to a state that pursues fertility as its supreme doctrine within the framework of the heterosexual nuclear family. However, the main character Joana does not defend herself against religious appropriation, she wants more: for example, to bring couples back together shortly before the divorce through ritual sex.

"This film has a main character who wants to bring even more religion into the world," says director Mascaro. "She is waiting for a sign from God, but when the miracle finally happens to her, she gets a lot more than she expected."

The miracle is the long-awaited pregnancy. Only then does Joanna realize what is happening to her. She does not lose her faith - but she does lose her belief in the surveillance of her own good by the state and religion.

"Either-or: Islam or nothing"

So is religion always more of a fetter, at most liberating from the inside too? The German film "Oray" suggests a different interpretation. The eponymous Oray is a young man from Hagen who cannot get his life under control: He was a petty criminal, money is always scarce, and he separates from his much more practical wife almost accidentally because he has an Islamic divorce formula on her in a dispute throws his head. Oray finds the only hold in faith.

"I had a probation officer in Hagen who didn't want to understand that I would still be a criminal without Islam, until today. Didn't want to understand, to death, that for people like us, brothers, there is only either / or: either Islam or nothing. Either paradise or hell. Is there something in between? "

"Yes, I think the greatest attraction to these, let's say: Lost Boys or young men with a migration background, is precisely this exclusive men's association with its values ​​such as friendship, brotherhood, sharing - and outside work: They are the ones envy us, and those who attack us. And against it we, the actually true believers. "

He knows someone like Oray himself, says director Mehmet Büyükatalay. Just as his entire film is filled with finely drawn portraits of German Muslims who are all looking for their own way. But they all clearly feel that there are still no role models for a connection between Muslim and Western culture, they have to be created first.