Global Cinema 10: Austria – L’animale (2018)

Austria is a well developed country with a lot of history but being German-speaking I do wonder if sometimes it’s easily mixed up with its larger neighbour. Still, plenty of excellent directors and actors have come from that country, and it remains a strong filmmaking nation.


Austrian flagRepublic of Austria (Österreich)
population 8,902,600 | capital Vienna (Wien) (1.8m) | largest cities Vienna, Graz (270k), Linz (194k), Salzburg (147k), Innsbruck (125k) | area 83,879 km2 | religion Catholicism (57%) | official language German (Deutsch) | major ethnicity Austrian (81%) | currency Euro (€) [EUR] | internet .at

A landlocked Alpine country formed of nine federated states, it is largely mountainous, albeit with some plains in the east. The name is from the Old High German for “eastern realm” and first appeared at the end of the 10th century, probably deriving from Mediæval Latin. It was settled by Celtic tribes, but conquered by the Roman Empire as the kingdom of Noricum. Charlemagne conquered the area in the late-8th century, and it was first defined as a state of its own in 976, when granted to the house of Babenberg. It later became a duchy, then eventually fell under the house of Habsburg in the Middle Ages. The Austrian Empire was founded in 1804, then Austria-Hungary in 1867; when the Archduke was assassinated in 1914 it prompted World War I, at the end of which the Empire was dissolved. German-speaking Austria became a Republic, and briefly annexed to Germany in 1938 until the end of World War II. It has a directly elected President, who selects a Chancellor to head the Federal Government.

The earliest films made in the country were newsreels, with the earliest native productions being erotic short films from 1906. Mainstream production began in 1910, kicking into high gear during the war and after. A number of filmmakers emigrated to the west during the Austria-Hungary years and as the German annexation began to be felt, including Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg early on, then later Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger and others. Musical comedies became popular following WW2, but filmmaking had dried up by the 1970s aside from avant garde film production (names like Kurt Kren, Peter Kubelka, Valie Export being the most prominent). Contemporary filmmakers have started to come to international prominence, most notably Michael Haneke, but also Jessica Hausner, Barbara Albert, Michael Glawogger, Ulrich Seidl and Nikolaus Geyrhalter, amongst others.


L’animale (2018)

There’s a certain slightly forced quality to the narrative that you expect from a new filmmaker — the way it sets up parallel storylines between parents and children, the use of the title song to link their stories — but on the whole this is a really tightly-controlled film about repressed small town attitudes and people trying to break out of their learned habits. It’s about a young woman (Sophie Stockinger) who finds she’s attracted to another woman — much to her surprise, perhaps less to the audience — while her father grapples with his own sexuality. It’s all shot in a frontal style with slow movements and a clarity to the image that just sets it slightly apart from reality perhaps, while the acting taps into some of the simmering rage that lurks beneath the surface of many of the characters. I think there’s definitely a director worth watching here, and her film is not a million miles from the work of some of the (particularly excellent) recent Austrian and German language women filmmakers like Valeska Grisebach, Jessica Hausner and Angela Schanelec.

L'animale film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Katharina Mückstein; Cinematographer Michael Schindegger; Starring Sophie Stockinger, Julia Franz Richter, Jack Hofer; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Sunday 30 December 2018.

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