Dir: Marie Kreutzer. Austria 2011. 105mins


Family traumas, the weight of the past and the legacy of hippie utopianism all loom large - with a side order of mystery - in The Fatherless (Die Vaterlosen), a simple but superbly confident and mature debut from young Austrian writer/director Marie Kreutzer.

Kreutzer handles the flashbacks - involving some talented child actors - with tremendous subtlety and suggestiveness.

With impressively fine-tuned performances from her ensemble cast, the film explores similar terrain to Lukas Moodysson’s Together, exploring the stresses of hippie-style commune existence and its effect on the children who didn’t choose to grow up in it.

The film begins with the death, in a big country house, of Hans (Krisch), patriarch and alpha male of a neo-hippie group who, back in the 1980s, set up a ‘60-style collective in the heart of the Austrian countryside. Flashbacks - shot in rich hues not dissimilar to Together - reveal that free love ruled the community, with several children of uncertain fatherhood running about the place. It also emerges that, for all the talk of familial democracy, Hans unmistakably called the shots.
Years later, Hans’s partner Anna (Mitterhammer) still lives in the house, and his various children arrive for this funeral - including doctor Niki (Hochmair), not Hans’s biological son, but loyal to his quasi-father. Son Vito (Kiendl) is the scion most obsessed with his father’s legacy, while Mizzi (Cox) is the youngest daughter, who has incurred neurological damage due to an event in childhood.

Also turning up, to Mizzi’s surprise, is Kyra (Wenzl), the older sister she never knew she had, expelled by Hans for mysterious reasons. Added to the mix are Vito’s and Kyra’s partners, and a sympathetic neighbour, with whom Anna seemingly has some amorous history.
It takes us some time to fathom exactly who everyone is, what is their shared past, and what are their current relationships. That, in fact, makes perfect sense, since they are all finding out about themselves and each other. The film is very much conceived as a stay among people we don’t know - the atmosphere of the house and grounds, at once balmily bucolic and uncomfortably oppressive, adding to the contemplative intensity.

Kreutzer handles the flashbacks - involving some talented child actors - with tremendous subtlety and suggestiveness. While there are certain revelations to be made, and even a surprise twist, the film is essentially a complex, novelistic affair of interplay between characters with unresolved conflicts and unhealed traumas.

Production companies: Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion, Witcraft Szenario OG, Robert Buchschwenter / Ursula Wolschlager
International sales: Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion, www.novotnyfilm.at
Screenplay: Marie Kreutzer
Producers: Franz Novotny, Alexander Glehr, Ursula Wolschlager, Robert Buchschwenter
Cinematography: Leena Koppe
Editor: Ulrike Kofler
Production designer: Martin Reiter
Music: David Hebenstreit
Main cast: Andrea Wenzl, Philipp Hochmair, Andreas Kiendl, Emily Cox, Marion Mitterhammer, Johannes Krisch