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Believable and honest feature film debut of a former documentary maker
I saw this film as part of the Ghent filmfestival 2012 in the official Competition section. This film was screened before in the Forum section of the Berlinale 2012, where I missed it for some reason or other. The film was more of less neglected there, undeservedly according to the festival representative who introduced the screening in Ghent. This time I took the new opportunity, and with favorable findings.
With a synopsis I risk to trivialize this film but I'll try anyway. A Moldavian refugee, hidden in a truck that crashes halfway on a journey to Spain, climbs out of the wreckage as a sole survivor, and tries to find his way on foot in Austria. Luckily, he speaks German and is able to communicate with people he meets, starting with a vicar whose moped he is able to repair. He proves to be a man of many trades. The vicar needs someone to work on the statues in his church, where he even gets a place to sleep. He nevertheless still wants to continue his journey to Spain, where "people still fear God, hence a good place to live". Apart from what happens with our main character, we see several other people appear, among which a policeman whose task it is to find fake marriages, and his former wife are the most prominent. We also encounter an obsessive gambler, who sells his wife's and kid's jewelry, and finally lends money in desperation from some dubious financier.
And there are many more characters appearing in the story. Some of them cross the path of our main character, while others run separate lives. Only two of them, the dubious financier and his body guard, appear in both. In other words, some of the stories get interwoven, while others are not and follow their own logic. I won't spoil for you how the different worlds finally "meet" each other in a more or less destructive way, but it demonstrates in hindsight the well-thought-out ingenuity of the script. This is a very strong aspect of the film, apart from the natural way how the participants come to life, and how we get involved in their (mostly miserable) existence.
The final Q&A with the director (Anja Salomonowitz) revealed that the many trades mastered by our main character, were the same jobs as her husband had while acclimatizing in Austria and learning to speak German. The metaphor of the ants carrying gold out of the church, went past me, as much as the choices made by the film makers to initially work with living ants (failed) and to switch to animation at a later stage. The church where a considerable part of the film was shot, was not in use anymore as a church due to being burnt down many years before. For that reason they could film there as many days as they liked. The shots from the exterior are from a different church, however. (I had to leave the Q&A halfway due to other engagements.)
All in all, a very commendable feature film debut of a former documentary maker. Many films of other directors that I saw based on the same ground principle (separate lives come together at some point), fell short like halfway failed new year's resolutions. I realize that it is not easy to round up a number of separate lives that are interesting enough to stand on their own feet, and let them come together at some point that is not too far fetched. This film succeeds on both counts.
The fact that the story bites its own tail (again, I avoid spoilers, so no details) works out as a surprise, and one can only wonder why it kept surprising me all the way home. It does not fit the "what goes around comes around" principle, however. The latter principle is demonstrated much better when the wife who was visibly scarred by her former husband, finds a very fitting act of revenge near the end of the film. The expression "reap what one sows" will appeal more to the biblically educated among us.
Of course, due to the limited time frame (102 minutes), the film raises many more issues of life and death than can be resolved in a satisfactory manner. But I am not prepared to hold that against the film makers, who succeeded in creating a believable and honest product. I left the theater while scoring a 5 (out of 5) for the audience award.
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