This film has an understated intensity that is a bit reminiscent of Robert Eggers’ 2015 film, The Witch. Maud is a nurse, having lately left a position at a local hospital for a role as an in-home private caregiver. Maud is a devout Christian, though we come to learn she has only recently been “re-born.” Maud’s client is an American woman, Amanda Köhl, who was once a renowned dancer. Now she suffers from terminal lymphoma affecting the spine and which has confined her to a wheelchair. Amanda is brash and controlling and though she has, in her own way, accepted her death, she clings to the affectations of her former life in an effort to touch some flicker of the decadence she enjoyed in that former life. For Maud, Amanda is a tragic figure and she determines quickly she must save her patient’s soul before her passing.
Maud’s devoutness is both familiar and uncomfortable. She takes her personal faith to extremes, choosing to punish her own transgressions and purify her soul through pain and self-mutilation. For a time, she believes she has found a spiritual kinship with Amanda. When that belief is shattered, and she believes God has turned from her, Maud returns briefly to her former life as Katie, a promiscuous, hedonistic, broken girl. She has run from a tragedy that befell her as a hospital nurse, the inability to save a patient’s life. She felt rejected by her coworkers and the hospital, she believes she has been rejected by God, and now in this return to old ways, she is rejected by those with whom she seeks connection.
Distraught, Maud begs God to show her a sign of his love. She believes she sees that sign in strange, roiling clouds and in a voice she believes to be His, commanding her to be prepared for her true test of faith.
Saint Maud is a very slow and nuanced film. Its horror is realized in a young woman’s untempered faith belying a soul seemingly irrevocably broken and beyond the experience of a true and faithful connection with God. And when we see how Maud believes she has finally found God’s grace, that belief has come at such a cost that the God Maud seeks to embrace and be embraced by would never ask her to pay.
The score is as ominous as it is beautiful. It is darkly spiritual, which is completely in line with the overarching theme of the film. Saint Maud, as stated earlier, is a very slow film, feeling much longer than its ninety-minute running time. But there is no moment wasted in the film. It is that ponderous quality of the film that brings to stark relief Maud’s tragic fall in her grasping for grace beyond her reach.