Geography and mood fuse into a stately, slow-moving but impressive whole in “Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea,” almost entirely set on an aging ship sailing the multi-monikered Danube from Vienna to the Black Sea. Initially hard going but later subtly affecting, Goran Rebic’s sophomore feature would have benefited from more background to increase its characters’ charm. However, the ambitious project hits its political target of reaffirming a new, more open Europe through an atypical storyline. “Donau” could find berths at Euro fests, but theatrical appeal is limited.
Youngster Bruno (Robert Stadlober), anxious to fulfill his late mother Mara’s last wish to be committed to the waves, approaches Franz (Otto Sander), a taciturn, embittered riverboat captain. Initially uncertain, Franz later agrees and an ambiguous father-son relationship develops between the two. Mara was once Franz’s lover, and Bruno is convinced the man is his dad.
Junkie Mathilda (Annabelle Mandeng) joins the boat, whimsically following a pelican she’s seen on the balcony of her apartment. Later, Franz picks up a Romanian illegal immigrant, Mircea (Florin Piersic Jr.), who’s jumped into the Danube to avoid deportation. Mircea and Mathilda strike up a relationship.
Other passengers come and go, including four Romanian gypsies who bring welcome liveliness. Eventually, the Danube carries most of the characters to a new beginning.
However, more information about the characters, particularly Mathilde, would increase aud interest. At times, they seem to be little more than cyphers for the scripters’ ideas, which makes them pretty unsympathetic. Some of the situations they generate could have been milked for more dramatic effect.
Nonetheless, pic is memorable for its insights into the politics and concerns of a marginalized, rapidly changing area of Europe, and for its river-edge images of war-torn cities.
A morose voiceover occasionally intrudes with dubious river metaphors, which add little. Indeed, the general tone of earnestness, intensified by weather conditions that are rarely other than gloomy, could have done with a little lightening-up. This is particularly true in pic’s first half, where everyone looks uncertain and tongue-tied.
Dialogue is around 60% German, with the rest split among several other languages.