Posts Tagged ‘Austrian Arthouse’

The Lodge (2019) *** LFF 2019

Dir: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala | Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Danny Keough | Horror 100′

After their maternal-themed horror story Goodnight Mummy, Austrian auteurs Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala spread their wings for pastures new, namely Colorado, where mothers are once again the theme in this English-language debut. The Lodge, sees another pair of siblings ensconced in a remote cabin in the mountains after the tragic death of their mother. This time there is a Daddy, a rather insensitive one who forces them to get to know their new stepmother at close quarters in the run up to the Christmas holidays in this unsettling but ultimately rather repetitive repentance thriller.

Riley Keough and Alicia Silverstone are convincing as the mothers in question, and the kids, particularly young Jaeden Martell is outstanding as the traumatised adolescent son. The Lodge gets off to a chilling start in its pristine post-modernist setting but the directors then drift into difficulties in the final segment of this stunning-looking genre thriller when they simply don’t know how to bring the saga to a close.

It all starts with the camera panning through the sleek timber-lined interiors of a chalet which turns out to be the kids’ dolls house in their chic clinical family home in DC, We saw this forbidding ploy recently in Hereditary, but it still works a treat. Alicia Silverstone plays a very smilier role to that of Susanne Wuest in Goodnight Mommy – a fastidious woman scorned by her husband and left to contemplate the future with dread. While Wuest takes control of the situation with some cosmetic surgery, Silverstone here takes more drastic measures.

The shocking scene that follows is pivotal to the plot. Teenage Aiden (Martell) and his younger sister Mia (Lia McHugh) then refuse to cooperate with their father’s (Armitage) attempts to play happy families by taking them off to the mountains with his new girlfriend Grace (Keough) who was once one of his patients. As Aiden puts it simply “Dad, you left Mum for a psychopath”. The die is cast. It soon emerges he met Grace while writing a book about evangelical religious cults and she was very much a victim. But in the end they all set off to their showy holiday home, Richard then retuning to work, leaving them to get to know each other in the days up to Christmas, but not before a dreadful accident sets our nerves jangling for what is to follow.

The family holiday home is particularly dark and uninviting with grim interiors, creaking doors and chilly views over the frozen lake. But the temperature inside is even frostier than the snowbound wilderness that surrounds the miserable threesome. Grace attempts to thaw relations with some positive suggestions but the kids are not convinced and gradually the mood deteriorates both inside and out as winter closes in on this hostile holiday where predictably the dog becomes the first victim.

The directors have finessed their finely-tuned horror tropes to perfection. Beautifully crafted religious icons, chiselled artefacts and handmade toys make this an elegantly haunting horror outing. Co-written with Sergio Casci the script leaves plenty to the imagination and keeps us guessing with a suggestive, uncertain plot line that gradually loses the plot and becomes more and more aimless. Despite this The Lodge is enjoyable and full of interesting ideas. MT





The Dreamed Ones (2016) | DIE GETRÄUMTEN

Director: Ruth Beckermann

Cast: Anja Plaschg, Laurence Rupp; Austria 2016, 89 min.

Vienna born director Ruth Beckermann (East of War), explores the relationship between the Romanian born Jewish poet and author Paul Celan and the Austrian poet and writer Ingeborg Bachmann and the unsurmountable emotional conflicts brought about by different parental influences. Celan was a Jew whose parents were murdered in the Holocaust and Bachmann was the child of a committed Nazi.

Beckermann has chosen an interesting structure: two actors read the letters between the couple, dating from 1948 to 1967; including the ones from Bachmann which she never posted. Between the readings, the actors Anja Plaschg (Bachmann) and Laurence Rupp (Celan) talk and smoke and wander around in Vienna’s “Funkhaus” (Broadcasting House) listening to concert rehearsals and dining in the cafeteria. Their discussions are earnest and give the impression of genuine conflict resolution.

Celan and Bachmann only spent a few months living together in the late 1940s, but they were obsessed with each other. Bachmann had great difficulty committing to any long-term relationships, and Celan’s hesitant nature was no help. But the main stumbling block was their rivalry as poets and writers. Both were writing in German, and as members of the literature circle “Gruppe 47” they were fierce competitors. Celan had written the Holocaust poem ‘Death Fuge’ (Todesfuge) in 1945, which was published in 1948. In 1953 Bachmann won the “Gruppe 47” award for ‘Die gestundete Zeit” (The extended hours), while just a handful voted for Celan’s ‘Death Fuge’. As Celan put it: just six people remembered my name. To make matters worse, Böckler, a critic of the West Berlin paper “The Tagesspiegel”, criticized Celan’s “dead language” and insinuated the poet “ gets away with it, because of his race”. This sort of reaction was not uncommon in West Germany after the war where the majority of Germans, including intellectuals, felt sorry for themselves, and transferred their repressed guilt for the Holocaust into attacks on Jews.

Both Bachmann and Celan had two major relationships during their involvement and avid exchange of letters: Celan was married to the French aristocrat Gisèle de Lestrange, with whom he had a child. Bachmann lived with the Swiss writer Max Frisch in Zurich and Italy. Dominated by hatred and self-hatred, their obsession with each other was to end in tragedy: Celan committed suicide in 1970 drowning in the Seine. Bachmann, addicted to Barbiturates, literally set herself alight with a cigarette in bed, and died three weeks later in Rome.

Their mainly unfulfilled love was typically for the decades after the end of WWII, when the emotional chasm between the victims (or their children) of the Holocaust and the Nazis (and their children) was simply too much of a hurdle to overcome, however strong their feelings for each other. Celan and Bachmann simply stood no chance: history overcoming their love .

DOP Johannes Hammel creates loving close-ups of the ‘couple’, and his matter-of-fact shots of the “Funkhaus”, where broadcasting history has been made for the last 90 years or so, is a reminder that these ordinary-looking places have witnessed a violent and changing history. THE DREAMED ONES is a chronicle of despondency and unfulfilled desires in a time over-shadowed with a past which not only lead to the death of millions, but also poisoned the lives of innocent survivors like Celan and Bachmann. AS



Paradise: Faith (2012) *****

Director/Script: Ulrich Seidl

Script: Veronika Franz

Cast: Maria Hoffstatter, Nabil Saleh, Natalya Baranova, Rene Rupnik

113min   Austrian     Drama             German with English subtitles

Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl returns to Austria for the second part of the Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Faith.  In Paradise: Love we met voluptuous, blonde divorcée, Teresa. Here, the mood is more sombre as we meet her less attractive sister, hospital worker Anna Maria (Maria Hoffstatter), who is taking her holiday ‘at home’ in her gloomy apartment block.

This time the focus is on religion and Seidl’s stark and stylised interiors mirror Anna Maria’s empty unhappiness with her life.  Hoffstatter gives a committed performance as an unlikeable and fastidious woman who clings to routine, old-fashioned clothes and a Wagneresque hairdo. As the narrative unfolds, she also emerges as the worst kind of religious bigot.

Ritual is a strong motif in this segment. Ostensibily a devout Catholic, Anna Maria’s days are spent observing meticulous routine: singing hymns and self-flagellating in front of a picture of Jesus. In neighbourhood forays as a door to door ‘Christian’ salesman, she comes across as insensitive and overbearing; projecting herself onto her victims, and  coming to blows with a disenchanted Russian immigré (Natalya Baranova) and forcing a kindly but arthritic man (Rene Rupnik) to pray on his knees in a droll vignette that considerably lightens the tone injecting some much-needed dark humour.

The appearance of her crippled Muslim husband Nabil (Saleh), blows her cover and sheds a new light on her piety.  A healthy physical relationship was obviously the focus of their marriage.  His paralysis has exposed their incompatibility as a couple and caused Maria to ‘re-discover’ her faith, sublimating her sexual frustration into hero worship of Jesus.  Saleh is quietly powerful as a reasonable man who rapidly morphs into a radical, raving mysogynist once rejected sexually. Anna Maria is actively disgusted by him and his religious beliefs and this only goes to heighten her own fervour, making his Islamic views appear strident and as they tussle with religious paraphernalia in the flat, the situation goes from bad to worse.

Occasionally spiked by provocative humour, Paradise: Faith is an uncomfortable film to watch, both from a dour visual perspective and a religious and moral viewpoint.  There are echoes of Kieslowski and Haneke’s deep misanthropy piqued with wicked comedy. An observational style leaves us space to contemplate the deep and fertile complexity of the issues involved and draw our own conclusions in our own time.

As in the other Paradise segments (Love, Faith and Hope), there is a strong atmosphere of subversion at play and Anna Maria’s unhappiness with her marriage and sexual frustration have found a focus on the image of Jesus, as Melanie’s burgeoning sexuality reaches out to the strong male figure of the doctor in Paradise: Hope. As Anna Maria kisses and masturbates with a miniature statue of Jesus, she idolises his physical ‘beauty’ in a deeply disturbing episode that has shades of Vanessa Redgrave’s performance in The Devils (1971) but cleverly steers clear of titillation.










Like it or not, Ulrich Seidl’s non-judgemental viewpoint tweaks a raw nerve in his depiction of inescapable and inevitable truths that is always tempered with a lightness of touch and knowing humour. A well-pitched and timely comment on the multicultural debate, it also showing how the disenfranchised and disenchanted can subvert their feeling into religious fanaticism, using religious fundamentalism of any persuasion as a badge of honour to hide more covert psychological issues. Paradise: Faith is possibly the most harrowing of the trilogy but also the most apposite in terms of contemporary multiculturalism. Highly recommended. MT


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