There's a certain ambiguity to the questions raised in Lourdes by Austrian director Jessica Hausner, but it's that not Lourdes is too respectful of its subject or wary of causing offense to believers. Rather, the film seems to be attempting to look objectively at the kind of people who go there on a pilgrimage looking for healing and even the possibility of a miracle, while for some it may be enough to just give them the strength and the faith to struggle on, the film attempting in the process to reconcile questions of faith with the realities of human nature and illness.
The film finds some degree of scepticism, objectivity, or perhaps simply humanity in the figure of Christine (Sylvie Testud), a young woman suffering from multiple sclerosis, pretty much paralysed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair, who hasn't come to Lourdes with a group of pilgrims in expectation of a miracle, as much as using it as an opportunity - one of the few available to her, and one she has taken advantage of in the past to go to other holy sites in Europe - to get out and about and meet people. One might think that there would be enough people of a likeminded nature on these trips, but Christine doesn't get the opportunity to speak to many of them and share details of their suffering or their hopes for a cure. It's not so much that Christine's condition doesn't give her much freedom to meet anyone other than the carers from the volunteer nurses looking after her needs, as much the fact that everyone, Christine included, seems to be wrapped up in their own little world of quiet suffering and contemplation, concerned with their own hopes for a cure and fears of it being someone less deserving than themselves who experiences the longed-for miracle.
These are very human responses to basic questions and tenets of faith relating to the will of God, questions that the priest travelling with the pilgrims takes pains to explain to the faithful in terms that everyone will be familiar with - God works in mysterious ways; the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. There's no realistic way of objectively confronting or challenging these questions other than on a personal and individual level, and Hausner allows the viewer to relate to them through a diverse collection of characters and, admirably, manages to do this without any unwarranted cynicism or didacticism, allowing actions, silences and glances between the characters to speak for themselves.
If it doesn't delve too deeply then into questions of faith, suffering and miracles, Lourdes does at least address them in terms of human hopes and failings, which the viewer can't help but identify with. The pace might be somewhat slow and deliberate, the look of the film intentionally austere and almost documentary-like, but without being directly provocative the film nonetheless raises interesting questions in a thoughtful and sometimes humorous manner that entertains at the same time as it gives you something to think about.