Goodnight Mommy (2014)

Goodnight Mommy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Country: Austria

Movie Review: “Goodnight Mommy” is an Austrian psychological horror-thriller, produced by Ulrich Seidl, and written and directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. The collaboration between Mr. Seidl and Ms. Franz isn't recent, since the latter was the screenwriter of “Dog Days”, “Import/Export”, and the “Paradise Trilogy: Love, Faith, and Hope”, films that projected the career of Ulrich Seidl as a film director. A careful examination of its wryly-dark tones and incisive procedural techniques can tell us right away that Seidl was an influence. As for the story, it works quite well as a quietly disturbing tale that develops in a crescendo, haunting us with its eerie visuals and baffling us with its mysteries. If you liked Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth”, the masterpiece of the genre, you will probably connect to “Goodbye Mommy” whose scenes inside an isolated house in the Austria suburbs, involving the members of a family in a sort of captivity, might provoke similar sensations and claustrophobia. Nevertheless, the plot’s final twist didn’t have the impact that should have had in order to culminate the film in a brilliant way. For me, it worked more like a gimmick than a real twist. Two active and clever twin-brothers, Lukas and Elias, welcome their mother, a TV hostess, after she had been submitted to a facial surgery. Their time is divided into exploring the fields around the isolated house, raising beetles, and feeding stray cats. Gradually, their behavior grows harsh and their posture changes to bitter, after a few incidents that make them suspect about the true identity of their mother who always hides her face under bandages. The situation is aggravated when the intriguing mom sternly communicates the new set of house rules, so she can rest and recover from the surgery, a recent divorce, and an allegedly obscure ‘accident’. Doubt persists till the last act where the kids make their mother a hostage, and the film becomes slightly gory. Neurotically shadowy, “Goodnight Mommy” can provide you with a restless time.

In the Basement (2014)

In the Basement (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country: Austria

Movie Review: Ulrich Seidl’s new documentary, “In the Basement”, is mordantly funny, creepily outrageous, and boldly raw. The film gathers a set of suburban Austrian people, who expose themselves by allowing us to peek on what’s going on in their basements. Clearly, the whole is weaker than the sum of the parts, however, my voyeuristic side was awakened by the intimate little secrets it keeps unveiling, even if a couple of unnecessary scenes are there only with the purpose of shocking the viewers. The idea and concept have come from Seidl and the habitual creative collaborator, Veronika Franz, who just co-directed the absorbing horror-drama “Goodnight Mommy”. The creators have selected curious individuals whose tastes extend from the cult of Nazism to sadomasochism, going into guns and shooting, vanity and prepotency, baby-addiction and solitude. For a little more detail about the visited basements, here’s a summary: Fritz, a former soldier who teaches at his illegal home-keeping shooting club and has a knack for singing opera, is the first to be introduced; a married woman in her late fifties still dreams about having babies, using baby dolls that she conceals in boxes; another man follows a family predisposition to drink from dusk till dawn while maintains the basement shining with cleanness; Hitler’s admirer and Gestapo’s target, Josef Ochs, who also plays horn in a band, invites us to his Nazi retreat where he often drinks with his friends; a middle-aged couple don’t talk, just stare intrepidly at the camera while the jukebox plays silly old songs; a security guard reveals to be a masochist and his wife, the master, shows a few techniques used in their well-equipped cellar; a prostitute-lover man, tiny in length, boasts about his super sexual potency; and a woman who had stabbed his abusive husband still likes being violently dominated by men. Functioning more as an exposition rather than an examination of human eccentricities, “In the Basement”, as I expected, is presented through medium-long shots with geometrical compositions and no music.

Amour Fou (2014)

Amour Fou (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Country: Austria / others

Movie Review: The contemporary Austrian filmmaker and screenwriter, Jessica Hausner, gives signs of a progressively remarkable career that became more noticeable five years ago when she addressed the mysteries of faith in the impeccable “Lourdes”. Now she spawns elegance with the classy period drama “Amour Fou”, set in Berlin, 1811, where a depressed romantic poet persuades an unhappy high-society lady to die with him. The story is based on the life of German poet, dramatist, and writer, Heinrich Von Kleist, whose melancholy is compellingly conveyed by the preeminent performance of Christian Friedel. Heinrich utterly suffers in this world, and love seems to be what feeds and inspires him, even if we think that he’s inclined to transform it into a tragedy. At first his choice was the well-positioned Marie, who doesn’t give him the importance he thinks he deserves, refusing to die with him, and announcing she’s about to get married. Then his eyes turn into Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoeink), a melancholic married woman who convinces herself she’s gravely ill and nobody cares about her. Her husband loves her very much but often acts coldly while her own mother acts indifferently to her complaints; only her daughter Paulete is undoubtedly special. Filled with philosophical discussions and refined lyrical music, “Amour Fou”, which literally means ‘crazy love’, was given the appropriate title. Henriette, whose way of thinking was considered narrow-minded by her devoted-to-freedom poet friend, becomes under the spell of death, driven by the impetuous desire of leaving this world with someone who loves her rather than dying alone in a bed. Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography reminds us a perfectly illuminated canvas, often adorned with the stylish presence of a tall feminine servant, dressed in red and exhibiting gorgeous hats.

The Dark Valley (2014)

The Dark Valley (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Andreas Prochaska
Country: Austria / Germany

Movie Review: Achieving considerable notoriety in its origin countries, Austria and Germany, “The Dark Valley” grips us with a tale of vengeance set in a remote village of the Austrian Alps. With a sturdy hand, director Andreas Prochaska, builds this western with passion, even considering that some viewers might be frustrated when trying to find answers for some plausible questions, such as the real motives for the vengeance behind the story. The charismatic Sam Riley (“Control”, “On the Road”) stars as Greider, an apparently quiet stranger who introduces himself as a photographer, willing to pay for staying the winter in the village. The old Brenner and their six harsh sons, as the town rulers for many years, decided to accept his monetary offering, placing him in the house of a widow whose daughter Lucy develops a fondness for her lodger. Lucy is about to get married with Lucas, but gets concerned when informed by her future husband that the ritual known as ‘Primae noctis’, a medieval prerogative that allows the rulers to take the virginity of young brides, will occur after the wedding party with the priest’s connivance. This fact seems to be the reason for Greider’s presence, coinciding with two unexpected deaths in the Brenner family that will make him a suspect, a fugitive, but also a predator. Prochaska takes his time to build things up, but once we are immersed in the hunting process, our attention becomes focused, not on the contestable motives, but on the action itself. Some flashbacks can help turning the visually stunning “The Dark Valley” a bit clearer, while the occasionally incongruous score was its most negative aspect.

Kuma (2012)

Kuma (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Umut Dag
Country: Austria

Movie Review: “Kuma” showcases the life of a firmly integrated Turkish family, where marriage, love, and motherhood, end up in false hopes, disagreement, and deception. The story begins with the wedding of Ayse (Begum Akkaya), a meek 19-year-old country girl, and Hasan, who lives in Vienna with his family. The uncomfortable atmosphere surrounding the wedding, especially among Hasan’s sisters, lets us foreseen that something is wrong. In fact, Ayse is on her way to Austria to be the second wife of Hasan’s father, in a scheme arranged by Fatma (Nihal Koldas), family’s matriarch who was diagnosed with cancer and wanted a substitute to take care of her husband and children. When her death was expected at any moment, the plot gives a big turn in multiple fronts, striking us with its shocking effects. The film was superbly shot and keenly photographed, whereas the dashing direction by debutant filmmaker Umut Dag, gave excellent indications for the future. The notion of women’s duty is very present, as well as the bitterness of a society that opts to close the eyes to domestic violence or homosexuality, instead of facing it. The final half hour was very expressive in letting come out pain, shame, and constraint. “Kuma” revealed to be a beautiful, biting, and overwhelming film, with so much going on at the same time, yet organized and structured in a very compelling way. Actresses’ fantastic performances also deserve mention.

The Wall (2012)

The Wall (2012) - Movie Review
Directed by: Julian Polsler
Country: Austria / Germany

Movie Review: A fantastic surprise coming from Austria, “The Wall” is a poetic and very human essay on isolation and survival. It was based on Marlen Haushofer’s novel with the same name, and directed by Julian Polsler who gives here his first step out of the TV scope. A woman (Martina Gedeck) gets mysteriously trapped in a delimited mountain area that became surrounded by a transparent, preventing her from any human contact. Assuming the rest of the world is dead, her only companies were animals: Lynx, a dog that belonged to her compulsive collector friend, Hugo; Pearl, a cat that appeared in a rainy day; and Bella, the cow that helped her to survive with its milk. Her concern for the animals took a considerable weight from her back, since she didn’t think so much in herself or in the abominable situation she was. In order to help her state of mind, she decided to create a kind of report where she annotated all the relevant occurrences that might happen. Her voice and occasional excerpts of Bach’s classical music were the only break of the forest’s heavy silences. Efficiently narrated and acted by Martina Gedeck, and dazzling us with its sharp cinematography, “The Wall”, created a prison that made me feel frustrated rather than claustrophobic. I was absorbed during all the film, which only came to an end when the paper was over and Gedeck was forced to stop writing. This lyrical mystery tale, winner of Ecumenical Jury’s prize at Berlin, comes with the stamp ‘required watching’.

Paradise: Hope (2013)

Paradise: Hope (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country: Austria / others

Movie Review: Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise Trilogy comes to an end in great style with “Paradise: Hope”, the most interesting and balanced film of the trio. It starts with a gymnastics teacher preaching discipline to the teenager newcomers of a diet camp, a place to learn how to eat healthily and do appropriate exercise. Our eyes then turned to Melanie, a girl who gained a crush on the camp’s doctor after her first medical examination. All tension comes from this relationship, carrying a strong sexual component at first, but changing tone for the last half-hour. Will the doctor follow his voluptuousness in some circumstance? Melanie’s psychological background is shown through conversations with her dorm mates about their parents’ absence and sexual experiences. It was interesting to find that despite being at a very strict place in terms of rules, the girls easily fell into improper conduct, which includes alcohol, cigarettes, and striptease games. Visually, “Hope” is presented in the same line of the two previous parts, “Love” and “Faith”, adopting the same cleanliness, tidiness, and pale colors in the well-composed images. The major difference was in terms of plot, which was more consistent, and less shocking or forced. A connection with the first part of the trilogy is established when Melanie tries to reach her mother on the phone; as you may remember, she was looking for love and sex in Kenya. As usual, Seidl takes a cold look into a degrading society whose values and moral are called into question.

Museum Hours (2012)

Museum Hours (2012)
Directed by: Jem Cohen
Country: Austria / USA

Review: “Museum Hours” mixes fictional story and documentary in a stupendous way. It tells the story of a beautiful friendship between Johann (Bobby Sommer), a guard of Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), a Canadian visitor who seemed lost among those immense works of art, and whose main purpose was to reach the local hospital where a childhood friend was hospitalized in a state of coma. Johann, as an inveterate observer (both inside and outside the museum), sensed her despair and offered help. Since that day, both became good friends, spending their free time having agreeable conversations about their lives, discussing art, and strolling around the city, which was depicted almost like a painting. So, you can expect a very artistic and didactic film, in which is almost possible to get acquainted to Vienna, at the same time that we learn detailed aspects and different visions about the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel’s works. Jem Cohen presents us his unique vision through a distinguished screenwriting and remarkable direction, aided by the strong performances of the leading couple. The art contemplation, café conversations, and historical information, ended up establishing a regular, relaxed pace, which can be a setback for many viewers. But don’t be discouraged, since “Museum Hours” has so much to offer in an unpretentious way, that this trip to Vienna comes very much recommended.

Paradise: Faith (2012)

Paradise: Faith (2012)
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country: Austria / Germany / France

Review: Ulrich Seidl’s ability to disturb through psychological aspects is wide known, and the second part of The Paradise trilogy confirms exactly that, this time associated to faith issues. Nothing could have been more convenient than join in the same house a religious fanatic woman, Anna Maria (Maria Hofstatter), who is literally in love with Jesus (really?), to the point of masturbate herself with a crucifix, and her Muslim husband, Nabil (Nabil Saleh), who became paraplegic and returned home after an absence of two years just to realize that his wife got insane. Beyond this fact, we can follow Anna Maria going door-to-door, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary and trying to convert immigrant people to Catholicism. Every scene was depicted with a deep mockery associated to its human decadence, and revealing a bizarre side that is quite common in Seidl’s films. Great part of them were ludicrous, with often unintelligent dialogues, and evincing the same tireless urge to shock us somehow. Contrary to what may seem, this religious battle of Anna Maria with herself and with the world, didn’t bring anything significant to be debated, being just an art-house exercise punctuated with enough strong sexual content and profanity. Through confident static shots and an impeccable direction, Seidl shows his admirable technical skills, but there’s not much to take from “Paradise:Faith”, which showed too much degradation to be likable, in addition to its opportune plot manipulations.

Paradise: Love (2012)

Paradise: Love (2012)
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country: Austria / others

Summary: A 50-year-old woman makes a vacation trip to Kenya.
Review: New feature-film from Ulrich Seidl is the first part of “Paradise” trilogy (Love, Faith and Hope). Teresa is a 50-year-old Austrian woman searching for love in a paradisiacal place in Kenya. It’s excused to say that local men don’t want anything to do with love but with money, trying to get from tourists whatever they can. Seidl follows the same approach used in his previous film “Import/Export”: bizarre plans, depressing images of nude bodies and evident loneliness, showing a desperate and naive search for love. Realistic and precise, “Paradise: Love” has in the exhaustive repetition of its ideas, its main weakness. In my opinion it should have been shortened for at least 20 minutes.

Michael (2011)

Directed by: Markus Schleinzer
Country: Austria

Plot: A drama focused on five months in the life of pedophile who keeps a 10-year-old boy locked in his basement.
Quick comment: Markus Schleinzer doesn’t conceal the influence of Michael Haneke’s filmmaking, with whom he has been working as casting director. “Michael” is a compelling portrait of a monster, whose sick mind is hidden within an apparently normal life. The subject of this film is particularly strong by itself, but Schleinzer proved to have hands for direction and counted on flawless acting performances. Haneke’s influence don't suppress its merit of being a very well made movie. Cold and disconcerting.
Relevant awards: Best feature (Viennale); best actor (Dublin).

Breathing (2011)

Directed by: Karl Marcovics
Country: Austria

Plot: A 19-year-old is coming out of prison and trying to build a new life but he can't deal with his guilt.
Quick comment: Austrian actor Markovics (known for his role on “The Counterfeiters”) makes his debut as director and the result is “breathing” – a movie with personality. Without any kind of sentimentality, it shows the struggle of a young boy to reintegrate himself in society after spending his life first in an orphanage and then in a juvenile detention center.It shows how important it is for a person in this situation to feel support from others in order to move on. A director to keep an eye on.
Relevant awards: Grand prix (Melodist); label europa cinema (Cannes).

The Fatherless (2011)

Realizado por: Marie Kreutzer
País: Áustria

Após a morte de Hans, o chefe de uma antiga comunidade hippie, toda a sua família reúne-se na sua casa, inclusive uma filha que estava ausente há 20 anos. Segredos, revelações e emoções vão sendo deitados para fora neste drama familiar que não funcionou para mim. Um tanto artificial na forma como é apresentado e até pretensioso, procura ser complexo, mas expõe os traumas de cada personagem de uma forma demasiado abrupta e directa que acaba por nos fazer perder o interesse. Kreutzer, venceu o prémio para "melhor obra de estreia" no Festival de Berlim.