Posts Tagged ‘AUSTRIAN FILM’

Lillian (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Andreas Horvath; Cast: Patrycja Planik, Chris Shaw, Albert Lee; Austria 2019, 130 min.

Austrian filmmaker Andreas Horvath (Earth’s Golden Playground) has restaged the journey of the real Lillian Alling, who in 1926/27 tried to walk all the way from New York to her homeland country Russia. Debutant Patrycja Planik plays the gritty modern day heroine, who crosses the sub-continent without saying a single word.

We meet Patrycja, a woman in her early thirties, when she gives her photos to an ‘adult’ film producer, who declines the offer. “These are photos for modelling, we do hard core, your visa has run out and you don’t speak English”. In the background we see graphic examples of his trade, they could be straight out of one the documentaries of the feature’s producer Ulrich Seidl. “Go back to Russia” is the producers advise, and Patrycja takes him by his word. She breaks into a house near New York, finds a map and a huge jar with cheese balls, and sets off for her journey across he USA and Canada. When her shoes are ruined in a stream, she steals a pair from one of the many flea markets she visits, as well as from an abandoned laundrette. She sleeps in dilapidated houses and odd dwellings on the way.  She even manages to bed down in drainage pipes and under viaducts, greeted in the morning by stray cats. Scavenging for food, she steals a watermelon and eats pizza from a garbage can, and joins the kids in picking up sweets from the 4th of July parade. Hardly anybody bothers her: she looks so needy and poor, nearly always flying under the radar.

There are two encounters which are stand out: In Iowa she accosted by an elderly would-be rapist (Shaw), who chases her in vain across a corn field. Alone again, she steals a scarecrow’s shirt. In Nebraska, a sheriff (Lee) picks her up for vagrancy and treats her like a hardened criminal: she has to put her hands on the hood of his car, whilst he searches the meagre content of her bag. Later he relents, even giving her his warm sheriff’s jacket. This is the only kindness she ever experiences, before he drives her to the boundary of his county.

Whilst the landscape is breath-taking beautifully, Trump’s heartland seems emotionally dead. Somehow time has stood still in the mid-Fifties of the last century. Most people have fled to the cities, the remainers adamant to keep to the lifestyle of the era long gone by. We watch a parody of a rodeo, and a demolition derby with cars who were unfit to drive even a century ago. There are lots of religious slogans everywhere: “Smile, your Mum chose life” or “Where is your family?”. Instead of mobiles, old-fashioned two-way walky-talkies are still en vogue. After a hail storm, which she survives in an ambulant toilet, Patrycja again freshens her wardrobe up in a cloth donation bank.

Her journey comes to an end at the Yuka river, were she tries in vain to drag a canoe into the river, to continue her journey. This enigmatic ending works well with an allegoric story about men and whales: we never find out who Patrycja really is, there is no background, just a very very determined young woman, bashing on again and again with a spirited resistance to nature and everyone she meets: untouched through her ordeal, like a woman who fell from the sky.

Horvath’s photography is always dazzling, accompanied by a sparse musical score to replace the dialogue, which never materialises. Lillian is a triumph of a spirited, enigmatic women, wandering through a society, where emotions and ideas have long died.  AS




The Border Fence (2018) **** IDFA 2018

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | Doc | 112′

Brenner Pass, Alpine border, spring 2016: the Austrian government announces the construction of a border fence expecting a shift of the refugee routes to Italy after the Balkan route is closed. The Austrian residents seem to fear the fence as much as the influx of refugees to their homeland. Two years later, the fence is still rolled up in a container. History took another route.

This gave Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter reason enough to go to the region with his camera and explore the mood there. Surveillance and border fences have long been themes in his work (Abendland, 2011), along with the delicate balance between humans and their environment (Homo sapiens, 2016). What was originally seen as a welcome from Austria soon switched to a crisis that has swept through Europe like a forest wildfire. Everyone feels challenged to protect their homeland (or heimat, as the Austrians put it). “As the first refugees, we were impressed by the welcome culture of Austria. But at some point in the reporting a switch was put”. This subtle change meant that suddenly these people became unwanted. Europe’s solidarity during the world wars was finally put to the challenge.

A short conversation in the toll booth is one of the many absurd scenes in the film: border functionaries air their negative feelings about the ‘refugees’ and migration, while going about their duties solemnly dispensing a 9 euro toll ticket every 30 seconds. In the nearby hillside, two male hunters talk about their experience with refugees on the so-called ‘Green Brenner’ borderline during the winter months, and admit to feeling sorry for the scantily clad travellers who are totally unprepared for the climate and thick snow. These human encounters are often forgotten or buried in the abstract political discourse. Meanwhile the local police try to carry on with their commitments. It’s a thankless task and one that clearly compromises them, trapped between the humanistic angle and their duty to their country. There are no winners here. Everyone tries to put forward their opinions delicately without appearing racist. But the protesters are not silent. 

Elegantly framed and filmed in long takes, Geyrhalter remains the calm observer, distancing himself from the madding crowd, muting their anxiety and anger with placcid detachment, yet still retaining a humanistic feel. THE BORDER FENCE makes for a contemplative experience, allowing the audience space and time to process this European crisis. Geyrhalter’s documentary is a study in atavistic fear and human behaviour at its most base. And while many are vehemently opposed to the crackdown on migration, others feel threatened: “Be my guest – but don’t take over my home”.  MT


Austrian Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2018




Austrian cinema is always a worthwhile presence at the BFI London Film Festival, and this year is no exception with Sudabeh Mortezai’s streetwise drama JOY featuring in the main competition.

JOY (2018) Tuesday 16 & Wednesday 17 October

Sudabeh Mortezai (Macondo, LFF 2014) presents a vital and hugely affecting drama that tackles the vicious cycle of sex trafficking in modern Europe.

ANGELO (2018) Wednesday 17 & Thursday 18 October

The powerful story of Angelo Soliman, a forced Europeanised African who makes his way through Viennese society in the early 18th century without ever belonging.

STYX (2018) Thursday 11 & Saturday 13 October

A professional woman’s solo sailing journey turns into a deadly serious ethical dilemma in this unusual and taut political allegory. (*Germany-Austria co-production)

TWENTY-TWO HOURS  (2018) Tuesday 16 October

Bouchra Khalili’s meditation on revolutionary histories considers the poet Jean Genet’s secret 1970 visit to the United States at the invitation of the Black Panther Party. *Germany-USA-Norway-Austria co-production Screened in conjunction with PROMISED LANDS, directed by Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa. Austria-Germany-Uganda 2018. 19min

YOMEDDINE (2018) Thursday 18, Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 October

Egyptian filmmaker A.B. Shawky makes his feature debut with this utterly unique road movie which charts the friendship between a leper and a young orphan. *Egypt-Austria co-production


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