53rd Chicago Int’l Film Fest #11: “Life Guidance” (Austria)

“Life Guidance” (Austria)
Directed by Ruth Mader

03The film fest/world cinema space is littered with films whose allegorical natures are so obvious or forced they quickly rid us of our desire to see it through to the end. 2010 Oscar nominee, “Dogtooth”, comes to mind as the kind of film that made me want to throw my hands up in the air and scream “I GET IT! REALLY, I GET IT! Get ON with it!”. Oy, that film…

While Ruth Mader’s “Life Guidance” is of that school, luckily for us as viewers, it is MUCH more watchable, I might even say enjoyable. But the pace and story don’t particularly lend itself to that adjective, so let’s just stick with watchable…and creative…and very well-acted…and beautifully shot. It’s just this side of too obvious to be great. It feels more like an episode of “Black Mirror” than the movie it is desperate to emulate, “Clockwork Orange”. The story meanders a bit too long, is rife with long spans of silence, and seems awfully pleased with its observations on the nature of dissatisfaction in a society that refuses to allow such emotional liberties.

Nonetheless, it is an effecting and effective film, thanks, mostly, to the various production aspects of the film. This is a fully formed and three-dimensional world, which, in and of itself, is a victory given that we see so much of this futuristic, dystopian society…its buildings, highways and varied neighborhoods. Terrific work. Also, the successful score from Manfred Plessi matches this world in both its sparse instrumentation and repetitive themes.

Finally, the acting, for a script this devoid of dialogue, is pretty sensational. Fritz Karl, as our depressed protagonist, is restrained yet emotionally on point, and has an incredibly interesting face (and not just because he resembles Colin Firth – which he does). Exceeding him, however, is the Big Brother character of the film played by Florian Teichtmeister. Possessing what might be the creepiest smile I’ve seen on a big screen, he is sensational and is the glue that keeps one invested in the film. The rest of the supporting cast are also successfully of this world and of this message.

Listen, this is a very specific kind of film and will certainly not appeal to the majority of moviegoers. BUT, if you like your societal ills and class inequities served cold on a platter with subtitles (and I do), this might be just the film for you. Certainly more so than “Dogtooth”!

Written on 10/21/2017

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