Berlinale Competition title is an acerbic satire which targets the Austrian middle class
Dir/scr. Josef Hader. Austria, 2017. 103 mins.
Best known in German-speaking territories as a top cabaret entertainer, Josef Hader has also gained quite a reputation as the disheveled sleuth Simon Brenner in the Willi Haas/Wolfgang Murenberger series of sardonic mystery movies (Silentium, The Bone Man) which pitilessly trashed the Austrian middle class. Now, adding another feather to his cap at the age of 55, he is makes his directoral debut with his own script for Wild Mouse, anacerbic satire which targets the same bourgeoisie and its ludicrously ugly underbelly barely dissimulated by perfectly tailored manners.
As far as revenge goes, Georg is basically a nerd bereft of any real imagination
Though his take on typical Austrian respectability is never less than sarcastic, and every other social class in the country gets a well-deserved barb or two, Hader has a serious problem keeping his jaundiced view of his characters within a functional script and after a promising first act, the plot gradually falls apart into a series of sketches whose points are often dulled by self-indulgence, thin characters or a lack of dramatic coherence.
Hader’s reputation may carry the film through German-speaking countries but once subtitles enter the picture, much of the irony will probably be lost.
Unsurprisingly taking the lead, Hader plays Georg, an admired and much feared music critic who is kicked out of his job after 25 mighty,glorious years. Angry, insulted and most of all terrified, for there is nothing else in his life, he refuses to tell his wife,Johanna (Pia Hierzegger) a 43 year-old shrink whose only real concern in life is getting pregnant, that he is now unemployed.
Georg vows eternal revenge against the boss (Jorg Hartmann) who fired him and in the meantime, sits in the Prater, reads the news and fumes when his name is used above the incompetent columns written by the stooges who have replaced him on the paper. Finally he stumbles upon a lower class roughneck, Erich (Georg Friedrich) who, ages ago, used to beat him up at school. With Georg’s money and Erich’s technical expertise they fix a Prater rollercoaster (a ride on it is supposed to reflect Georg’s state of mind). Johanna, meanwhile, still believes he is attending concerts and press conferences every time she calls to tell him she’s ovulating and he needs to rush back home to fulfill his marital duties.
But as far as revenge goes, Georg is basically a nerd bereft of any real imagination. He starts by scratching the car of his nemesis and escalates from here, though even the police can’t believe that Herr Doktor, who does such a beautiful job of destroying his victims on paper, is capable of making so little significant damage in real life and they send him packing home with a pat on his shoulder. He wants to be really nasty but doesn’t quite know how to do it.
Since, to quote The Tea House of the August Moon, irony - just like pornography - is a matter of geography, Hader’s gibes will not register with all audiences and, lacking an imaginative, malicious but coherent Willi Haas plot, they tend to be telephoned in advance, cover too much ground and are drawn out longer than necessary.
Hader’s two self-taught cameramen, Andreas Thalhammer and Xiasu Han, provide a pleasant visual landscape, particularly effective in the final, snow-covered segments shot in the Austrian Alps. But since his characters are never much deeper than a cabaret pun, this is exactly how they are treated by his cast. As for Hader, he looks and acts just like the disheveled Simon Brenner, not quite the appearance or conduct of a respected classical music critic. Putting Schubert, Beethoven or Vivaldi on the soundtrack can’t go really wrong, but using The Death and the Maiden, Eroica or La Follia, is a bit too transparent a hint for the mood of his despondent, hapless critic.
Production companies: WEGA Film Produktion
Producers: Michael Katz, Veit Heiduschka
International sales: Match Factory (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cinematography: Andreas Thalhammer, Xiasu Han
Editing: Ulrike Koller, Monika Willi, Christoph Brunner
Production design: Christoph Kanter
Main Cast: Josef Hader, Pia Hierzegger, Jorg Hartmann, Georg Friedrich, Denis Moschito, Crina Semciuc, Nora Waldstetten