Review: The Apparition, an Engaging Portrait of Two Lost Souls

Image courtesy Music Box Films.

The fascinating and impressive latest work from writer/director Xavier Giannoli (Marguerite) is all about faith and what it takes to shake it from our core. In The Apparition, faith isn’t strictly defined in religious terms; it also involves faith in humanity, in oneself, and in the intrinsic value of uncovering the truth. The movie opens with the death of a photojournalist known for covering war-torn areas of the world, often alongside his best friend and renowned reporter Jacque Mayano (the great French actor Vincent Lindon), who is struggling to cope with the loss. Seemingly out of nowhere, he is contacted by the Vatican to be a part of an investigative team looking into the authenticity of a claim by a young woman named Anna (Galatéa Bellugi) that on more than one occasion she has had an apparition of the Virgin Mary come to her.

The team is an interesting mix of secular and scientific types given very strict criteria in determining Anna’s claims, which are substantiated by the local priest in her small town church, Father Borrodine (Patrick d’Assumçao). He has allowed something of a circus atmosphere to grow around Anna, who has taken refuge in the church. She is brought out to the masses (or as they prefer, “pilgrims”) on a set schedule so they can adore, listen to her words of peace and comfort, and perhaps lay hands on her as she passes by, in the hopes of what we’re not exactly sure. Anna does seem drawn to Vincent, and she agrees to meet with the investigators, with Vincent doing the bulk of the actual questioning. As an aside, I was pleasantly surprised to see the wonderful, Romanian-born Elina Löwensohn (Nadja, Schindler’s List) as a member of the committee.

Using his skills as a journalist, Jacques not only digs into Anna’s past (as is required) but he goes into the lives of those closest to her throughout her life and discovers connections that may or may not have to do with her case. It seems clear that Anna believes what she’s saying, but does that mean she had these visions? And if not, why would she make up such a convincing story? It turns out she sneaks out of the confines of the church on some nights to visit an old friend who delivers letters to her regularly. The film touches on a great number of big ideas concerning such claims. Who are these people who blindly show up at the mere suggestions of such an apparition? Who does it benefit if it’s true, and is it worth debunking if it’s not? The church isn’t really interested in proving or disproving Anna’s claims, as much as it wants to make it clear that it’s taking them seriously and doing a thorough investigation that will likely result in an inconclusive verdict.

Giannoli has a healthy skepticism about conditions like this in the world, but he also acknowledges that they do have value to believers and non-believers alike. While the local religious leaders are against the committee’s inquiries, Anna’s bond with Jacques (not a romantic situation, in case you were wondering) makes it clear that both sides must endure each other to please her, which in the end is all everybody wants. The film takes a rather tragic turn in the final act, and even as Jacques begins to figure out the complete picture surrounding Anna, he is torn about whether it is better to let the truth be known or simply respect her wish to let things play out a particular way. The Apparition also allows a type of closure for Jacques regarding his lost friend in the film’s highly satisfying final moments. The film is deeply engaging, carefully and methodically executed, and wholly satisfying as a portrait of two lost souls who find some type of inner comfort in the other.

The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre. Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.