The Standstill (2023) Viennale 2023

October 24th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria, Doc

The pandemic lockdown still haunts our collective memory and forms the subject matter of this calm and salient reflection from Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter.

The Standstill (Stillstand), premiering at this year’s Dok-Leipzig, offers a chilling insight into those gruelling times of privation and restriction in the filmmaker’s homeland of Austria, with a focus on Vienna.

Since the early 1990s the director, writer and cinematographer has carved out a niche for a particular brand of cinema; his stark, elegant style casting a dispassionate often ironic eye the life on our planet, with multi-award-winning films such as, Our Daily Bread (2005); Robolove (2011); Homo sapiens (2016); Earth (2019) and Matter Out of Place (2022) – rather like his compatriot Michael Glawogger did from the 1980s until his early death in 2014.

There have a been a slew of lockdown film and this is a worthwhile addition to the archive with its restrained, distant approach to a pandemic which threatened to destroy humanity and is now hopefully under control. With an insightful series of interviews with those affected The Standstill will certainly strike a cord with every single one of us, but the intervening years make this more bearable to watch than some of the early Covid-19 offerings.

The Standstill focuses on the human tragedy starting at the very beginning of the European lockdown in March 2020 until December 2021, and Geyrhalter muses on how the Austrian capital was nearly brought to it knees despite its highly advanced medical system and efficient infrastructure.

Nowhere escapes his camera’s gaze as it pans in on shops, restaurants, schools and theatres showing the extraordinary length to which life, as we know it, was brought to a complete halt, the only places that buzzed with a frenzied activity were the hospitals and medical centres.

With his observational approach Geyrhalter once again brings a dash of dark humour to the sombre party as images of a black lorry laden with coffins is juxtaposed with footage of an anti-vax campaigner spreading his views. Geyrhalter leaves us feeling rather despondent. The hope that this period of inspection would somehow bring enlightenment and a desire for more solidarity and understanding across the globe have clearly not materialised given the continuing outbreaks of wars and conflict from East to West. When will we ever learn? @MT

VIENNALE until 31 OCTOBER 2023

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