Dir: Wolfgang Murnberger. Austria. 2008. 121mins.
Wolfgang Murnberger’s films have long been popular with German-speaking audiences but so far international success has eluded the director. This wicked black thriller, however, could be the film to get him greater recognition internationally, at least with lovers of arthouse black comedies.
Murnberger’s third adaptation of a Wolf Haas novel again stars Josef Hader in the lead role as the disreputable detective Brenner and he’s supported by a strong cast including Birgit Minichmayr and Josef Bierbichler. The two hour running time is just the right length for this convoluted story and theatrical release at home in February looks promising. Smart handling could see it travel on an arthouse level.
Behind the prim lawns and the prissy, spotless homes of his Austrian homeland, Murnburger finds a host of fascinating themes to explore - cannibalism, transexuality, corruption amd bureaucracy to name a few.
Former police inspector Brenner (Hader) is now out of the force, moonlighting as a freelance debt collector and apparently homeless. He’s not a nice guy: he never shaves, is always smoking and is badly in need of a good night’s sleep. Sent to the countryside to find a painter who has forgotten to pay for his car, Brenner finds himself involved in a series of murders. At the centre of it all is the local restaurant owner (Bierbichler) who is at odds with his good-for-nothing son Pauli (Luser) whose winsome wife (Minichmayr) is desperate to escape. Also in the mix are a waitress (Hierzegger) who is not what she seems and a Russian pimp (Erceg) who gets involved with disastrous results.
Murnberger’s script puts almost all of its cards on the table early on. It’s not the identity of the culprit that matters but the way he behaves. Typically, the most sympathetic of all the characters commits the most heinous crimes not because he wants to but because it seems like the best solution at a given moment. That the audience nevertheless roots for him suggests the film’s precarious moral standards.
The cast handles the fast paced banter with aplomb. Solid camera work and tight editing keep the macabre plot moving ahead briskly. If anyone’s going to complain, it’s the the Austrian tourist board: who’s going to eat goulash in Austria after seeing what goes into it now’
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Peter von Haller