In 1976, a 23-year-old German woman named Anneliese Michel who had been treated for psychotic episodes died of starvation following an attempted exorcism. The attending priests and her parents were both convicted of manslaughter.

This story was turned into two movies in the last two years: the first was the American The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and the second is the Berlin Festival award-winning Requiem. If I tell you that one of these films starts from the idea that poor Anneliese would have lived if only those horrible secular doctors hadn't drugged the Holy Ghost out of her, and one of them is a totally neutral depiction of things happening without any endorsement for any viewpoint, I suspect that you could guess which one was which.

It's not clear when Requiem takes place, exactly, although it's not 1976. Michaela Klingler (Sandra Hüller) is a young sufferer of epilepsy whom, after missing a year of school, has been given the chance to study at a university, over her mother's objections and her father's misgivings. Over the course of the first term she makes friends, falls in love, experiences what appear to be stress-induced seizures, is prescribed medication, and takes it for a very short time.

Meanwhile, she becomes convinced that she has been possessed, fixates on St. Katharina, who died a martyr's death at a very young age, and begs help of the local priest who views her story with extreme skepticism and condescension.

It should be fairly obvious what interpretation of events I subscribe to: a schizophrenic refused to take her medication, because "God" didn't want her to. But what's quite wonderful about Requiem is that it doesn't agree with me, or disagree. It merely presents the facts of its case and turns the audience out to ponder matters of science, faith and reason.

This is prevalent throughout the film, but nowehere moreso than the ending: the last image is of a small smile on Michaela's face, and then a discreet title card appears over black, explaining that she died of exhaustion after a series of excorcisms. By refusing to enter into the pornographic detail that any American film would have ladled on this climax, its removal from the film deprives of the only information that can actually prove the question, "was she in fact possessed?" The film cannot give answers by design, it can only make us think and recognize our own biases and sympathies.

If the film were nothing more than a Rosarch test, it would be unbearable. Luckily, it's actually quite good: Hüller is fantastic in the lead role, walking a very thin line between cartoonish demonism and cartoonish insanity without tipping her hand either way at any point. And director Hans-Christian Schmid has a great deal of success with the current European vogue for hand-held cameras: it's less documentary-like here, being used mostly to express the chaos and fear that the characters all feel. The film is not "pretty," but it is very well-shot, and it is useful from time to time to remember that is possible.

Mostly, though, one returns to the story, and step back in awe at a film that can look with clear eyes at the war between reason and religion, and not pander to either side. We cannot, and perhaps should not tell such stories in America right now, but someone could and did elsewhere, and that is a heartening thought.