Dir: Jessica Hausner. Austria. 2001. 79 mins.
After her noted short Flora (1996) and medium-length film Inter-View (1999), Hausner makes a highly impressive feature debut with this tragi-comic portrait of a withdrawn teenager. Shot on DV with amateur actors, the project's small-scale and offbeat nature will limit its appeal beyond the arthouse circuit, though the film has been sold to a number of territories and will be a welcome guest on the festival circuit. Above all, it signals Hausner as a director with a very distinctive vision and major-league potential.
Pursuing themes of isolation, misunderstanding and the frustrations of lower middle-class life touched upon in her earlier films, Hausner focusses here on a girl in her early teens who is just beginning to discover her sexuality. Rita (Osika) could be a real beauty if she made half an effort, but instead slouches around, locking horns with her parents, teachers and fellow pupils; her father (Kostal), who is an amateur marksman and obsessed with tidiness (he absurdly insists his family always keep the toilet lid down), is a particular bugbear.
Rita embarks on a series of minor acts of rebellion. Cast in a bit part in a school production of JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls, she locks up a classmate and usurps the role of the female lead. She seduces a bus driver (Fiala) and flirts vaguely with Fexi (Bauer), a much younger asthmatic boy living nearby, before spiriting him out of a hospital ward and attempting to run away with him.
The quiet tensions of this apparently mundane existence are mapped out with a deadpan humour and contained emotional violence redolent of fellow-Austrian Michael Haneke (whose lectures Hausner attended while studying at the Vienna Film Academy) and, more indirectly, of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's early work.
The non-professional cast give fine, understated performances, especially Osika, who is in virtually every scene as the sullen but oddly charismatic nymphet. Although the film builds to a brutal climax, Hausner allows what makes them tick to emerge gradually through small looks and gestures without histrionics, over-explicit dialogue or attempts to explain away their motives.
Her elegantly minimalist direction is marked by precision framing and editing, with a slightly low-set camera and an unsettling use of the zoom shot, to especially startling effect in the film's final scene. The choice of DV gives the images an insubstantial and (despite the garish colours) etiolated feel which appropriately reflect the characters' emotional alienation.
Prod cos Coop 99, Prisma Film Production, Essential Film Production
Int'l sales The Coproduction Office
Exec prods Barbara Albert, Susanne Marian.
Prods Antonin Svoboda, Philippe Bober, Heinz Stussak.
Cinematography Martin Gschlacht
Prod des Katharina Woeppermann.
Ed Karin Hartusch
Main cast Barbara Osika, Christoph Bauer, Peter Fiala, Wolfgang Kostal, Karina Brandlmayer.