“Ant Street,” a polished first feature from Austrian former documaker Michael Glawogger, satirizes Viennese idiosyncrasies with affection-laced bite. This intelligent apartment-block comedy shows strong regional potential and could cross into other territories. Its on-target humor will appeal to anyone passably familiar with Viennese daily life.
The middle-class, Hapsburg-era building on which pic centers houses a rich cross-section of society. Pensioners outnumber children, Polish construction workers are crammed in one tiny flat, and tenants’ last names reveal their multiethnic Central European roots. The super is a Yugoslav woman who shares her cramped quarters with her three-generation family. Narrator, and guide through the story, is a civil servant at the Office of Statistics, Alfred Navratil, convincingly played by Robert Meyer, who has made a minor specialty of functionary roles.
The camera moves behind the building’s firmly shut doors to intro the various inhabitants and their peculiarities. There’s the woman who visits her hairdresser twice a week, and her son who collects bugs. A deaf old man finds contentment watching the TV weather reports for local cemeteries. A childless wife dotes over her ailing dog while her hubby obsesses over getting the timepieces in his clock shop to ring in unison.
Frau Gerhartl (nicely played by Bibiane Zeller) is a compulsive shopper and collector, her apartment piled high with unopened boxes, which the Poles steal. Even Alfred, the voice of reason, is revealed to have his eccentricities: identical sets of clothing lined up on suit racks, one for each working day, and his hobby of building a matchstick model of the building.
When the building’s old gentleman owner dies, his nephew sets about renovating and selling off the apartments. Their routines disrupted, the tenants eventually come together in a cleverly constructed finale, and the ant-colony life of the building continues, resistant to outside forces.
Glawogger’s careful introduction of each character pays dividends when plot triggers later come into play. Though some personalities are too briefly sketched, the overall level of craftsmanship is high. Carefree, old-fashioned Austrian drinking music makes an apt counterpoint to the story.