Wri/Dir: Jessica Hausner | Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Sam Hoare, Camilla Rutherford, Elsa Zylberstein | UK
Jessica Hausner is back with another cold-eyed psychological drama that unfolds in an elite school where a teacher forms a sinister bond with a group of students.
A dereliction of parental duty is behind the faddish behaviour of so many kids today. Or so Jessica Hausner would have us believe in her primary-coloured feature that also highlights eating disorders through the online ‘pro-ana movement’, climate change and self control.
Mia Wasikowska heads the eclectic cast of singularly unlikeable characters as Miss Novak a nutritionist specialising in ‘zero eating’ in a modernist school billed as one of the best in Austria. The parents are rich and mostly neglectful of their kids who channel this latent disappointment and lack of real guidance by voicing a series of contemporary convictions which sound entirely laudable in the opening scenes: their love of sport, their need to impact less on to the environment. No one actually mentions a desire to be slim. Gradually Miss Novak indoctrinates her students into a cult of disfunctional eating, promoting the miraculous health and environmental benefits.
Hausner and her regular screenwriting partner Geraldine Bajard certainly make some really valid points but the stark, non-naturalistic interiors and characters are so intractable, performed by a cast of inexperienced newcomers, we do not care a jot for any of them as they fade into pasty-faced insignificance, and this, along with an irritating percussive soundscape and the relentlessly unforgiving depiction of Gen Z, makes for an arduous watch.
The exception here is school principal Sidse Babett Knudsen who lights up every scene with her amusing charisma, as Ms Dorset. Fellow auteur Ulrich Seidl is behind the production team but the film has none of his dry wit or deadpan appeal. Instead we are forced to endure a scene involving a teenage girl (Ksenia Devriendt) who eats her own vomit, echoing the ‘yuk’ factor of last year’s Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness. Bodily functions are a natural part of life but sound effects would have been far more effective. Sometimes what we don’t see is far more powerfu than what we do. MT
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