Posts Tagged ‘Austrian cinema’

Little Joe (2019) ****

Dir. Jessica Hausner | Sci-fi Drama | Austria, UK, Germany | 105′

Austrian auteuse Jessica Hausner creates films that are intelligent and refreshing. And none more so than her recent Cannes competition entry Little Joe. A challenging, coldly humorous hyper-realist Sci-fi that explores the unique human condition known as happiness.

Sometime in the future Emily Beecham plays Alice, an emotionally buttoned up ‘plant designer’ who develops a scarlet thistle-like flower whose scent makes people happy, and is sure to catch on  commercially. But there’s a snag: the plant also makes subtle changes in the personalities of those who inhale its pollen. It also causes seems to destroy neighbouring plants in the laboratory.

Little Joe is a mesmerising film to look at: its brightly synthetic colour schemes, geometric framing and slightly off-kilter performances are undeniably eye-catching and entirely appropriate given the subject matter: genetic modification. This is not a film to love but a film to admire, the strange storyline keeping us agog in fascination until the surprising finale.

Once her pioneering plant is in full flower Alice names it Little Joe, and brings a sample home for her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor) to tend – she’s a rotten workaholic mother hooked on Deliveroo dinners, but hopes the plant will bring out her son’s nurturing side.

Meanwhile, in their slick laboratories and mint green uniforms, Alice and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) are certainly more commercial scientists than traditional plants people, but Chris is the more appealing and emotionally intelligent of the two. Their chief designer Bella is an earth mother and soon notices that her beloved shaggy dog Bello has undergone a complete change of personality since sniffing pollen from the odd-looking thistles. The staff put this down to Bella’s mental health issues and move swiftly back to their microscopes. But these weird changes cannot be ignored for long.

Sound plays an important role throughout this unsettling story and Japanese composer Teiji has devised a spooky electronic soundscape for each phase of plant development. Hausner has seemingly gone out of her way to assemble an eclectic multi-racial cast and this certainly adds flavour to this exotic con concoction but Beecham, Wishaw, Kit Connor and his dad (Goran Costic) are particularly affective in striking the right mood. And if you think Little Joe bears a strange visual resemblance to another recent Austrian chiller you’d be right: DoP Martin Gschlacht also filmed Goodnight Mommie (2014). MT


CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Best Actress Emily Beecham

RoboLove (2019) **** DOK Leipzig 2019

Dir.: Maria Arlamovsky; Documentary with Hiroshi Ishiguro, June Korea, Matt McMullen, Ulises Cortes; Austria 2019, 79min.

Robots are the future. And according to a new documentary from Austria we should be very concerned. Humanoid robots, androids, and sex robots have always aroused our curiosity, they also awaken in us a very-human fantasy about power. RoboLove shows how robots reflect more about us than their AI creators would perhaps care to admit.

In her follow-up to Future Baby, Arlamovsky – who also co-wrote Abendland with Nikolaus Geyrhalter embarks on a provocative study of the emerging and often surprising issues concerning morality, humanity, diversity and identity, as society progresses en-masse into unchartered technological territory. With robots increasingly entering our private lives, the film gently probes the issues at the cusp of a new-age of servitude.

The Austrian director has interviewed AI designers all over the world and has made a one crucial discovery: the naivety of those designing your future helpmate – or lover – is astonishing.

RoboLove opens with an candid interview with Dinah, a female android whose most important feature is her smile. Dinah can hold an intellectual conversation, and she is proud to be a robot. Then we watch an ‘upper torso’ called Harmony in verbal debate with to her designer. Harmony can argue, and is in no doubt about her role: “I was crated to please you.”

Meanwhile the AI designers are also clear about their aims. Ulises Cortes considers robots as consumer products, like coke or coffee. He also hopes that in future they will not only be a commodity, but will support lonely old people left alone who have been abandoned by their younger relatives. The intention is for them to become emotional companions. Another AI designer, Nadia Magnenat Thalmann, has dreamed all her life of having a perfect assistant and hopes that AIs will care for her in her old age.

For Matt McMullen, his female androids are not only sex-objects, but actually active in other areas of his life. Arlamovsky posits the theory about cyberspace being a female friendly space in the future. But the feminists have got it wrong: cyberspace is a battlefield of the sexes, mainly because men have greater purchasing power, and so most of robots look like young, slender white females, who never age. This is the only range McMullen and others are intending to develop.

Other AI researchers are talking about the danger of kids getting too attached to their their robots. The idea therefore is to develop special AIs specifically for children, and investing in zoomorphic research to create AI animals. Another designer, who as a child cherished the idea everybody would live forever, and nobody would leave him, is making a range of robots who can talk about their favourite memories, and are clearly products of a childhood trauma, when relatives and friends died.

Designer June Korea makes it clear that in about hundred years, the first humans will live for an eternity, having profited from AI. There are some weird scenes, when Hiroshi Ishiguro watches his AI creation stroking a leaf, or playing his guitar, with his head in the lap of the AI. But basically, most researchers and designers support the general consensus that humans are merging into AIs. “Take the technology away from humans, and we are only apes. By technology, I mean robots, so the differentiation between robots and humans is absolute nonsense. 80% to 90% of our lives is based on technology. But even if our human organs were replaced by technology, we would still be human. The scary thing is that AIs are getting more and more on par with humans. 

But Arlamovsky’s most frightening discovery of all is that the huge majority of AI designers are not aware that humans are not just the sum of their emotional experiences, but the victims of an ongoing internal battle, which is conflict inherent, and heading for the destruction of this planet. How to merge the majority of humans with suicidal tendencies with the products of logic dominated AIs has never been even contemplated. RoboLove, with its stunning images by Sebastian Arlamovsky, is a frightening documentary: do we really want our future in the hands of these technocratic scientists, who at best will replicate the contradictions of human life today?. AS

62nd DOK LEIPZIG FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 28 October – 3 November 2019



Styx (2018) ****

Dir: Wolfgang Fischer | Cast: Susanne Wolff | Thriller | 98’

Wolfgang Fischer’s debut was evocative philosophical psycho-thriller: What You Don’t See.  STYX works along similar lines with Fischer putting his characters into difficult situations to see how they cope. Once again the result is only surface deep in this two-hander which could almost be called an eco-thriller with its glorious seascapes and focus on flora and fauna. It follows Reike, an emergency doctor who is in her mid-thirties and decides take her holidays sailing single-handedly to the Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. We are told Reike is “is confident, determined and committed” but she is also terribly naive. The film opens as she attends to an RTA before preparing for her trip equipped with the latest snazzy gear and gadgetry. Her hedonistic early days are soon over on the high seas when, after a storm, she finds herself near a stricken refugee boat.

Fischer’s sophomore effort luxuriates in a magnificent sense of place, telling its tale through visuals and atmosphere. Reike gradually faces some stark moral dilemmas as she is torn between her dream and her nagging sense of responsibility. And although we feel little for heroine, Wolff still makes for compelling viewing – a strong woman suddenly made vulnerable by her flawed sense of duty to her fellow man when she comes up against a distressed fishing trawler filled with refugees off the coast of Cape Verde.

The final stretch is tense and unsettling as Reike helps teenager Kingsley (Gedion Wekesa Odour) on board and gets emotionally involved in a story that can only end badly when her coastal support lets her down. The sober truisms of the situation are bravely laid bare in a drama that holds its own given the current refugee crisis, and while Styx offers no easy answers to the thorny dilemma it raises, it certainly offers absorbing food for thought. MT





Sodom and Gomorrah : The Legend of Sin and Punishment (1922)

Dir: Michael Curtiz (as Mihaly Kertesz) | Cast: Georg Reimers, Victor Varconi, Lucy Doraine, Walter Slezak | Austria 140′

Although reputedly originally three hours long, the version screened at the Austrian Cultural Forum mercifully clocked in at just two hours. Of the cast, the actor whose name remains most familiar today is a very young Walter Slezak (Michael) as ‘the young sapling’, ironically so young and slender as to be completely unrecognisable from his later films.

After a dreary modern story that comprised the first half, the film picks up considerably when the Ammonites lay waste to Gomorrah in scenes in which it looks as though people are actually getting hurt (and knowing director Mihaly Kertesz – as he was then known – they probably were). Reputedly the most expensive Austrian movie ever made, Sodom und Gomorrha was the centrepiece of an ambitious run of historical spectaculars on the Italian and US model, shot by Alexander Kolowrat’s “Sacha-Film-AG” in the Laeser mountains outside Vienna. The outing brought its director to the attention of Jack Warner of Warner Bros, who signed him up in 1925.

His name now simplified to ‘Curtiz’ he returned to the biblical spectacular with Noah’s Ark in 1928, but with the exception of the risible The Egyptian in 1954, his epics thereafter were usually Westerns. @Richard Chatten



Red Earth, White Snow (2019) *** Bergamo Film Meeting 2019

Dir.: Christine Moderbacher; Documentary with Joseph Moderbacher, Alois Doppel, Sabinus; Austria 2017, 71 min.

Christine Moderbacher serves as her own DoP in this insightful debut feature that explores her change of attitude towards the Christian missionaries at work in the Eastern Nigerian village of Nkwumeatu.

Red Earth, White Snow (Rote Erde Weisser Schnee) is very much as journey into the past. Civil war was raging when she first went to Nigeria during the late Sixties. And things have clearly moved on. But Moderbacher has changed too and is longer that God-fearing little girls she used to be. Back in the village with her father Joseph, and his Catholic helpers, the intention is to help with the harvest. But she is faced with nagging  questions about herself and the role of the Austrian Catholics, who still see themselves as saviours, sent by God.  

Joseph Moderbacher might be ageing, but he he still has the drive and optimism of he had during the Civil War when Biafra split from Nigeria for a time. But all is not well: during this time in the adopted village of his Catholic crew he really starts to feel his limitations. The tractor they need for the harvest, has broken down, and Joseph and his college Alois are unable to get it going again. Moderbacher senior is, however, the star of the show: the villagers and Sabinus, the priest, pay homage to him. Daughter Christine compares past and present and nails down the common factor between Blacks and Whites: under the guidance of a Male God, Nigerian and Austrian men cooperate to repress females, making them into second class citizens. White women are patronized, black women are treated like slaves. Catholic ideology helps to keep the status quo. The clips from the Civil War are still traumatic: so much violence, and the helplessness of the ‘civilised’ nations.

The director questions past and present: the role of a Christian ideology, which so clearly segregates race and sex now feels outdated in its ability to promote change and still offer hope and salvation. Male chauvinism is still the dominating factor. And the need to re-examine the mythos of Christian volunteer work, when Moderbacher sen. and his friends are skiing in the Austrian mountains, where they  are “so near to God”.

There are structural questions, but Moderbacher’s approach helps to lift the hypocritical cover from the Good Samaritans, who are celebrating not equality but an exercise in superiority. A sharp irony permeates the whole feature, deconstructing and re-assessing the real motivations behind do-gooders or all kinds.



Berlinale Competition films announced | Berlinale 2019

The full competition line-up and special films for this year’s Berlinale have now been announced. The festival opens with Lone Scherfig’s THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and runs from the 7th February until the 17th. 

Vying for the Golden Bear, there are three Asian films: Zhang Yimou’s One Second, (China) Farewell My Son Wang by Xiaoshuai (China) and Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). From Canada, festival regular Denis Côté wiIl bring his latest drama Ghost Town Anthology Israeli director Nadav Lapid brings his world premiere: Synonyms. The rest are from all over Europe. 

There are 20 world premieres this year in Berlin, and 16 films vying for the Golden Bear of which 6 are directed by women.

BERLINALE GOLDER BEAR – hopefuls and Competition films:

The Kindness of Strangers by Lone Scherfig (Denmark / Canada / Sweden / Germany / France) – Opening film. Andrea Riseborough, Caleb Landry Jones and Bill Nighy star in Scherfig’s 20th film exploring the lives of four people in crisis.

The Ground beneath My Feet, by Marie Kreutzer (Austria)

Kreutzer’s first film The Fatherless won her an honourable mention at Berlinale 2011. Her latest drama follows a high powered woman has everything under control until a tragic event forces her life to unravel.

So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) by Wang Xiaoshuai (People’s Republic of China). Once again the social and economic changes in China from the 1980s until the present day are pulled into the spotlight through the experience of two couples.

Elisa y Marcela (Elisa & Marcela) by Isabel Coixet (Spain), The first recorded lesbian marriage is the subject of this black and white biopic from Catalan director Isabel Coixet.

The Golden Glove, Der Goldene HandschuhFatih Akin was born and grew up in Germany from Turkish parentage. His first literary adaptation is a crime thriller that traces back to Hamburg in the 1970s where a rampant serial killer was at large. (Germany / France) God

Exists, Her Name is Petrunya, (Gospod postoi, imeto i’ e Petrunija)  by Teona Strugar. The  male population of a Macedonian seaside town is scandalised when a young local woman decides to enact a traditionally men-only religious ceremony, but Petrunya holds her own in this unusual drama from award-winning director Teona Strugar Mitevska. Brings to mind Sworn Virgin. (Macedonia / Belgium / Slovenia / Croatia / France)

Grâce à Dieu (By the Grace of God) by François Ozon (France). French provocateur Ozon is back in Berlin with this portrait of three men who decide to challenge a Catholic priest who abused them many years previously.

I Was at Home, But by Angela Schanelec (Germany / Serbia). Franz Rogowski is the star of this Germany drama that revolves around a teenager whose brief disappearance changes the lives of his local community.

A Tale of Three Sisters (Kız Kardeşler)by Emin Alper (Turkey / Germany / Netherlands / Greece). The knock-on affects of unsuccessful adoption is the thorny theme of this drama from Emin Alper, whose award-winning, incendiary thrillers Frenzy and Beyond the Hill have delighted previous Venice and Berlinale festival-goers.

Mr. Jones by Agnieszka Holland (Poland / United Kingdom / Ukraine). Two years ago Polish director Holland won the Silver Bear with her eco-drama Spoor. She’s back in the competition line-up with a thriller about the Welsh journalist who broke the news to the Western media about the 1930s famine in the Soviet Union. Vanessa Kirby, James Norton and Peter Sarsgaard star.

Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). Wang Quan’an is no newcomer to Berlinale. In 2010 he  won the Silver Bear for his drama Apart Together, and the Golden Bear for Tuya’s Marriage in 2006.

La paranza dei bambini (Piranhas) by Claudio Giovannesi (Italy). A gang of teenage boys terrorise the streets of Naples in this thriller based on Robert Saviano’s novel Gomorrah.

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) by Denis Côté (Canada). It’s always a pleasure to see Denis Côté’s films – this inventive Canadian maverick was last in town with Boris Without Beatrice. Here he’s back with a fantasy drama set in the aftermath of a tragic incident in a small isolated town

Synonymes (Synonyms) by Nadav Lapid (France / Israel / Germany), with Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte. Lapid follows his 2014 drama The Kindergarten Teacher with a story about a young Israeli man who absconds to Paris with his trusty dictionary as companion.

Systemsprenger (System Crasher) by Nora Fingscheidt (Germany) a drama focusing on an unruly kid who terrorises everyone around her, not least the child protection services.

Ut og stjæle hester (Out Stealing Horses) by Hans Petter Moland (Norway / Sweden / Denmark). Moland brought his politically incorrect thriller In Order of Disappearance to Berlin in 2014. His latest, Out Stealing Horses also stars Stellan Skargard as a grieving widow whose past comes to the present when he moves out to the depths of the Scandinavian countryside.

Yi miao zhong (One Second) by Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum) People’s Republic of China ). Always extravagant and visually alluring, Zhang Yimou’s stylish films win awards across the board. Fresh from Venice 2018 and the Golden Horse Festival where his latest Shadow won the top prize. He tries his luck again at Berlinale 2019 with this story that sees a film buff befriending a homeless female.

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories – Documentary
by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Vies et morts d’Andy Warhol, Basquiat, une vie, 6 juin 1944, ils étaient les premiers)
World premiere

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

India / Germany / USA
by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, Our Souls at Night, The Sense of an Ending)
with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vijay Raaz, Jim Sarbh, Akash Sinha, Saharsh Kumar Shukla
European premiere

You Only Live Once  – Die Toten Hosen – Tour 2018 Documentary – World Premiere
by Cordula Kablitz-Post and concert director Paul Dugdale (Taylor Swift)

In Competition – Out of Competition

L’adieu à la nuit (Farewell to the Night) by André Téchiné (France / Germany) – Out of competition with Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein.
Amazing Grace realised by Alan Elliott (USA) From 1970s Warner footage – Documentary, out of competition

Marighella by Wagner Moura (Brazil) – Out of competition

The Operative by Yuval Adler (Germany / Israel / France / USA) – Out of competition

Varda par Agnès (Varda by Agnès) by Agnès Varda (France) – Documentary, out of competition

Vice by Adam McKay (USA) – Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry – Out of competition

Berlinale Special films:

ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky (Canada) – Documentary
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by Chiwetel Ejiofor (United Kingdom)
Brecht by Heinrich Breloer (Germany / Austria)
Celle que vous croyez (Who You Think I Am) by Safy Nebbou (France)
Es hätte schlimmer kommen können – Mario Adorf (It Could Have Been Worse – Mario Adorf) von Dominik Wessely (Germany) – Documentary
Gully Boy by Zoya Akhtar (India)
Lampenfieber (Kids in the Spotlight) by Alice Agneskirchner (Germany) – Documentary
El Norte (The North) by Gregory Nava (USA 1984)
Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Germany) – Documentary
Photograph by Ritesh Batra (India / Germany / USA)
Watergate – Or: How We Learned to Stop an Out of Control President by Charles Ferguson (USA) – Documentary
Weil du nur einmal lebst – Die Toten Hosen auf Tour (You Only Live Once – Die Toten Hosen on Tour) by Cordula Kablitz-Post, concert director Paul Dugdale (Germany) – Documentary


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