Austria (/Germany) 2001
director/scr : Jessica Hausner
cinematography : Martin Gschlacht
editing : Karin Hartusch
lead actors : Barbara Osika, Christoph Bauer, Peter Fiala, Wolfgang Kostal
When shown at Estonia’s Black Nights Film Festival, the organisers actively encouraged ‘local youth’ into seeing this character study of 15-year-old Rita and her soul-numbing middle-class existence in a faceless suburb. But American and British kids would never be allowed within a mile of the cinema – Rita’s two sex partners are a pre-pubsecent neighbour and a lecherous thirtysomething bus driver. If that wasn’t enough, the film culminates in a Targets-style eruption of jarring violence.
Using digital video and now-familiar dogme-style techniques, director Hausner paints a bleakly hypnotic picture of Rita, who only comes alive when dipping her toes into the forbidden waters of sexual experiment. Only lust disturbs her miserable, disconnected equilibruim. Rita isn’t exactly a sympathetic figure, but we can’t blame her for being fed up with the narrow confines of her life, oscillating between convent school (where she’s shunned) and home (where she’s ignored, lectured and, when guilty of transgressions, locked in her room.)
She’s a servant in both places: she babysits for ungrateful, pennypinching neighbours and waits on the table young-fogey friends of her parents come for dinner; she plays an equally putupon maid in her school production of An Inspector Calls. And ‘inspect’ is exactly what Hausner does, coolly observes characters and their behaviour in a manner that makes Lovely Rita a miniature companion-piece to Ulrich Seidl’s broader-sweeping ‘Austria-is-hell’ epic Dog Days.
But by focussing on a 15-year-old, Hausner’s debut also slots alongside a much sunnier vision of north-European adolescence, Lukas Moodysson’s Fucking Amal (Show Me Love). While Hausner unfortunately shares Moodysson’s distracting fondness for relentless clumsy zooms, both films showcase striking performances from their young actresses – blank-faced beauty Osika is a real find as uber-surly Rita. And both get under the sweaty skin of well-off, dissatisfied ‘youth’ with a thoroughly engaging attention to detail, to the casual passions of secondary-school life: at Tallinn, the audience of mainly young-girls clapped enthusiastically after the shocking resolution.
13th December, 2001
(seen Dec-7-01, Sakala Keskus, Tallinn, Estonia – Black Nights Film Festival)
by Neil Young
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