Austria has given us contemporary cinema’s most pitiless practitioners of human-condition dissecting (see Michael Haneke, Ulrich Seidl, Markus Schleinzer), so when one of the country’s movies slips into our theaters, the urge to wince before a single frame has been shown is hard to suppress. Indeed, upon meeting the two gents in Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel’s drama—Philipp (Philipp Hochmair), a schlubby balding actor, and Walter (Walter Saabel), the elderly uncle who’s shown up on his doorstep unannounced—your mind goes to the darkest places imaginable.
You can rest easy. This uncle, a shaggy former circus artist, hasn’t come back to torture his nephew; he simply wants to reconnect with family. The thespian isn’t going to murder this visitor in his sleep. In fact, Philipp isn’t even bald; he’s simply wearing a fake pate for a part. The two spend the bulk of this gentle character study simply getting to know each other. Even various mentions of long-standing family enmity and a subplot involving a neighbor’s kids don’t result in misanthropic hateration.
Instead, the Italian-born Covi and her Viennese partner keep things breezy, letting real-life theater actor Hochmair go about his backstage business and watching Saabel chat up various locals in dive bars (you can tell the filmmakers cut their teeth making docs). When they do introduce a dramatic aspect, involving the children’s mother being stranded abroad, the inclusion feels false; after so much rich ambling about, a late-act attempt at narrative thrust only makes this intimate portrait lose its luster.
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