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Challenging cinema is rare, unless it is intentionally confrontational (violent or sexual) or highly obscure (avant-garde). Chris Newby's directorial debut is invigorating because Anchoress operates on many levels: political, philosophical and personal. Its story is both straightforward and oblique: Christine, an illiterate, fourteenth century peasant, becomes obsessed with the Virgin Mary, and, supported by the village priest, claims special powers as a holy anchoress to communicate with her. According to tradition, she is enclosed in a small chamber in the church, much to the dismay of her sceptical, often profane mother. Thus begins a battle of wills involving the priest, the "reeve" of the manor and her family that shakes the foundations of orthodoxy.
Stunningly photographed, Anchoress is described by Newby as a film "about a poetic eye in a barbaric landscape...For its design, I thought...of a Western, a medieval village as far-flung homesteads on a vast plain...Christianity battles with paganism, dogma fights a girl's inner vision." Moving from historical realism to a contemplative meditation on spirituality and the search for truth, it raises questions about undercutting authority, church verses state, and the sorceress versus the patriarch as the guardian of myth and vision.
- Geoffrey Gilmore, Sundance Film Festival