Oh, this is difficult

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Crossing Boundaries, and some notes on other Austrian films

Grenzgänger (Crossing Boundaries, Austria 2012, dir. Florian Flicker) is loosely based on Karl Schönherr’s play Der Weibsteufel (The She Devil) from 1914. It’s basically a story about a married couple and a man who holds a certain power over their lives, which makes the husband encourage his wife to ‘be nice’ to the man, without ever really saying what exactly he means by that.

Der Weibsteufel was shown at the Burgtheater in Vienna a while ago (2009-11, though I might be wrong), and this performance, directed by Martin Kušej, is also available on DVD — it features Birgit Minichmayr and Nicholas Ofczarek, both among the best Austrian/German-language actors working today. It was shown on TV once, but I only caught about half an hour of it, so I’m still thinking about getting the DVD.

The film transfers the story to the year 2001, letting it take place in Lower Austria, close to the Slovakian border, which was part of the Eastern border of the EU until 2004. The couple run an inn, occasionally smuggling people across the border, and the man is a young soldier who gets instructed to befriend and spy on the couple.

I’m not going to say more about it (basically because I’m lazy…and it’s late), but I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Great performances from the three leads — especially Stefan Pohl as the soldier, whom I’ve never seen in anything before.

Grenzgänger also owes a considerable amount of its greatness to cinematographer Martin Gschlacht who also shot Revanche, one of the Oscar nominees for best foreign language film in 2009. For some reason I was very tempted to watch that again yesterday. Now I can’t because I just saw Grenzgänger, but maybe I will this weekend.

Gschlacht also worked on Atmen (Breathing), the directorial debut of Karl Markovics, the lead actor of Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) which won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2008. As far as I remember, Atmen was Austria’s entry for the Oscars this year, but didn’t get nominated. In my opinion, both Revanche and Atmen are vastly superior to Die Fälscher, which to me seemed very generic in terms of…er, everything, I think. Revanche is gritty, ‘dark’, with a ‘real-life feel’ to it. In Atmen, there was such a strong and realistic sense of hope at the end, it was simply beautiful. Both films are very compelling, whereas The Counterfeiters was more like a lesson in story-telling, if that makes any sense.

What I didn’t like at all about Atmen, however, was one of the actresses who either got very strange directions or really can’t act. To make things worse, she played a crucial role in the main character’s story.

I am by the way not saying that getting nominated for an Oscar necessarily means anything (not just since Juno got nominated for and won best screenplay, like, for real), but…was I going to make a point? I don’t think so, and luckily Atmen was quite successful at various European film festivals.

Actually, when thinking about it, I find the fact that Revanche even got nominated rather astonishing.

On a related note, I once saw Markovics — who is very well-known in Austria, mostly for TV work he’s done — walking down the street, probably on his way to a theatre nearby. I’ve never seen him in a play, though, on the contrary to August Diehl who also played a role in Die Fälscher. (Internationally, he’s probably best known for his role in Inglourious Basterds.) A few weeks ago I finally got to see him on stage, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to see him in a play for ages. He played (and is actually still playing) the title role in Heinrich von Kleist’s Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (The Prince of Homburg) at the Burgtheater. He definitely is my favourite German actor – I hate talking about ‘favourite’ things, actually, for various reasons, but for him I’m making an exception. Apart from his acting talent there’s something so, and I’m struggling for words here, elegant about him.

Now for something completely different, it’s getting really cold, and windy. I know Vienna is supposed to be windy, but somehow it’s never really been all that windy until now. Or maybe it has been and I’ve just been repressing it. (See what I did there?)

And a funny fact: there’s a German guy in Grenzgänger who’s simply called ‘Piefke’ in the credits, which is a term used mostly pejoratively for Germans (except for Bavarians).


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Funny (and not so funny) things in serious books #1

“Drusus […] had a hasty temper and a streak of cruelty in his nature, but whether he exercised these on his wife and whether, if he did, she found them displeasing is quite beyond conjecture.” (Robin Seager, Tiberius, Malden, MA 22005, 155. — Italics mine.)

Why would anyone find a hasty temper and a streak of cruelty displeasing, especially in someone they’re married to? What a funny thought.