Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival ‘Your Will Be Done’: Teaching, not converting

Simon stands close to Johannes and fondles his face.
Simon stands close to Johannes and fondles his face. | © Your Will Be Done

The past year has delivered two high-profile films about the abhorrent concept of queer conversion therapy, or ‘praying away the gay’; however ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ and ‘Boy Erased’ have company in the form of German feature ‘Your Will Be Done’.

Initially unfurling as a stately portrait of a small Stuttgart church, and the couple devoting their lives to building their religious community, the Till Endemann-directed, Pia Marais and Martin Rosefeldt-written movie examines both the inner tussles and outer turmoil that arise when a lost soul is adopted into the flock, sparking an awakening within its leader.
 
With his wife Lydia (Franziska Walser), Johannes Klare (Edgar Selge) spends his time either spreading the word about his free Christian congregation or raising money for its ambitious expansion. The former is more successful than the latter, with grand construction plans at the mercy of funding — and, as a result, unduly influenced by wealthy parishioner Volker (Peter Jordan), who offers a substantial loan but with significant obligations. And yet it’s the arrival of Simon (Jannis Niewöhner) that truly complicates the pastor’s life. Johannes and Lydia first spy the twenty-something musician busking in the local streets, and then take him in after finding him impaired by illicit substances. Already a destabilising force within the Klare’s home and church, when the young man tries to kiss Johannes in an intimate moment, everything changes.

AN OBVIOUS AND SENSIBLE MESSAGE

In one of his six made-for-TV features this decade, Endemann demonstrates a sturdy, sensitive hand in fleshing out Your Will Be Done’s three major struggles, as Johannes battles with his connection to Simon, endeavours to protect his parish from Volker’s determined advances, and, with Lydia, examines the fallout from the church’s precarious financial state. While the first narrative strand takes preference over the second two, combined they probe the very idea of unfailing religious allegiance. Here, choosing to follow a system of beliefs doesn’t require unquestioning adherence to every literal word, despite what some of Johannes’ faithful may think. Rather, it inspires a process of challenging and confirming what those beliefs truly mean — and, as a result, choosing how to enact them.
 
Johannes and his wife Lydia sit next to Simon's bed. © Your Will Be Done
Your Will Be Done’s message may be both obvious and sensible, but its effectiveness can’t be doubted, particularly in a climate that frequently — and understandably — takes an opposing position. The film condemns conversion therapy as much as its Hollywood-produced thematic siblings, and denounces religious rigidity with the same strong fervour as recent Jehovah’s Witness-focused dramas Apostasy and The Children Act, while adopting a conflicted pastor’s perspective. Indeed, although Johannes’ path proves more straightforward than Marais and Rosefeldt’s script might wish, with none of the plot’s development’s playing as surprises, every emotional moment makes an impact.
 
Crucial is the core trio of Selge, Walser and Niewöhner, three actors enacting a crisis of faith and its consequences. Selge is quietly commanding in the lead, selling Johannes’ devotion, confusion and internal reckoning in equal measure, while Walser brings strength and dignity to the woman behind the man (and if their rapport seems particularly convincing, the pair played husband and wife previously in The Fifth Estate). Niewöhner’s Simon may be a catalyst for Johannes’ change, rather than experiencing it himself, but he imparts depth and feeling into his key part. Less successful are the roles played by Jordan and Thilo Prothmann, the latter as Lydia’s accountant nephew — with each proving a cartoonish touch in a movie that otherwise approaches its scenario and subject with subtlety and complexity.