One wonderful feature of Austria is the survival of independent cinemas.
Austrians do not admit this. They complain that independent cinemas are dead or dying and everything used to be much better. This is kind of true: I remember in 1985 sitting through a showing of the movie Britannia Hospital in a Viennese cinema as the only viewer.
Trailer for Toni Erdmann (English subtitles)
But believe me, Austrians: you have it good (or, as they say in German, hör auf mit dem jammern auf hohem Niveau).
It follows that in Austria, one has a feast of fine independent films, many off-beat and existential. But are they any good?
I watched two of them on flights to and from Chennai recently. Toni Erdmann is about a career-driven woman’s relationship with her playful, eccentric father. It has plus-points: laugh-out-loud humour; examination of what fathers, daughters and people in general want from life; and a spot-on depiction of how rich-country expatriates live and work in much poorer countries. The film is itself eccentric, featuring a disturbing sex-scene involving cakes (what was that about?); some cringe-making father-daughter scenes that will make you feel your own relationship with your parent/child is not that bad after all; and a stunning Bulgarian kukeri outfit.
Verdict: definitely worth a look if you feel like something challenging and out of the ordinary. Only the fact it goes on a bit too long drags it down to a rating of 8/10.
Wilde Maus trailer – only available in German so far as I can see
Wilde Maus is a slighter but still elegant film about a man, Georg, whose world collapses after he is fired from his job as a high-brow music critic. Plenty happens, and the action moves briskly along as the hero struggles with his relationship with his former boss; his partner; and himself. If Toni Erdmann is long, Wilde Maus feels short. Several promising story lines which might have given the rather one-dimensional Georg greater depth are touched on with maddening brevity. For example, the Chinese guy working in a restaurant who we hear quit his promising musical career as the result of a bad review, hints at Georg’s barely-sketched back-story. The eponymous Wilde Maus fairground ride in the Vienna Prater seems to play almost no role in the movie. And the fact the movie a) stars, b) is written by and c) is directed by Josef Hader, a renowned Austrian Kabarettist (a word, so far as I know, which has no English equivalent) leads, as so often in such cases, to the director giving his star too much creative freedom for his own good.
Verdict: the mixture of tragedy and comedy has depth and texture; and while Georg is infuriating, his predicament and the lives of the people around him have a loopy Viennese charm. 7/10 – an easier watch than Toni Erdmann, but less original.
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