Springtime in Styria, and a huge part of Austria's filmmakers gather in Graz at the Diagonale, festival of Austrian film, to show and see a selection of last year's production.

 

This year's documentary edition showed an interesting variety in topics and formats: a fairytale-like, historylesson-giving documentary: Dreams Rewired, an essay on the vanishing of borders: minor border or a sensitive observation in a psychiatric ward for children and adolescents: Wie die anderen (like the others), and the very raw: My Talk with Florence; different in length and style they all are what cinema is about: dreams, visions and insights.

 

Staff and young patients seem completely undisturbed, even oblivious, to the film crew working around them in Wie die anderen by Constantin Wulff. The film shows everyday work in the psychiatric ward, staff meetings and also psychiatric and therapeutic sessions with patients, situations that reveal some of the children's psychological conditions, some of them hard to stand. The film's sensitive approach without any judging or commenting depicts those situations with great respect, a strenuous yet important film.

 

An almost poetic camera showing the decay and demolition of a former Austrian-Hungarian minor border by Lisbeth Kovačič.While the camera seems to caress and analyze the – physical- remains of the border station, refugees tell their stories on the soundtrack. The film never shows them, stays with the architectural facts, and with this emphasizes the narration, the harsh situation of refugees in a place where, for some people, there still are borders, even if soon they won't be visible anymore; borders vanish and borders rebuild in 25 minutes.

 

Humankind apparently has dreamt of being wired and connected across small and large distances long before our constantly-connected modern world. Dreams Rewired by Manu Luksch and Martin Reinhart tells this story by combining archive material from industrialization until mid-1970 with surreal and abstract animation on the visual side, and a sound collage with a fairytale-like yet ironic comment spoken by Tilda Swinton. A marvelous film, except that it should have been shorter than 88 minutes.

 

Cinemas and distributors should reconsider their policy and start taking shorter - 60 to 75 minutes - movies in their programs. This would encourage film-directors to give their films the appropriate length instead of desperately trying to fit in rigid commercial time-structures. And they should reconsider as well taking short films in to their programs, so that short-films can be what they should be: a genre of its own, and not a mere exercise while waiting for the means to make a full-length film.

 

 

 

My Talk with Florence by Paul Poet seems a category of its own, technically a documentary, it's more of an experiment of how spectators deal with 2 hours almost uncut talk.

 

True the life story of Florence is extremely intense, a person sexually abused, put in psychiatric ward, abused again, living on the street, mother of three kids and living in the Otto Muehl community in the seventies. She' s a disturbing person, talking about the atrocities in her life while smiling almost merrily and clutching a doll. Interesting, intense but: too raw to be good.

 

Of course there are not only documentaries in Graz. A good example of a short-film using this genre's liberty is Tödliche Identität by Michael Gülzow and Michael Simku. The story uses stereotypes of a murder mystery, with all well known questions (where have you been? Has anybody seen you?..) but then the answers become more and more bizarre, combining arts-catalogue terminology with sociologic gibberish creating a strange, funny and surrealist atmosphere. Bad Luck by Thomas Woschitz shows a remote, boring place in the middle of nowhere, dark pictures, a menacing soundtrack and strange music, taciturn people, their lives and fates crossing and mingling until nobody can untie the knots anymore, until – almost – nobody can escape anymore. Another dark story but shot in much lighter, brighter colours: Der letzte Sommer der Reichen by Peter Kern. A story of revenge, sexual obsession, greed and betrayal displaying the complete universe of Kern's characters, a show of vanity and malice, but still you can't help but loving them until the last mean twist of the story.

 

This has been the last Diagonale of artistic director Barbara Pichler, from next year on a young “duo” – Sebastian Höglinger and Peter Schernhube – will take over, and Austria's filmmakers will again gather in Graz to see what they will have chosen among this year's work.

 

 

 

 

 

Christine Dériaz