'The Good German' traded BAFTA hopes

Harald Friedl's exquisitely shot, deftly edited docu "Out of Time" displays an almost atavistic level of professional craftsmanship ideally suited to its subject.

Harald Friedl’s exquisitely shot, deftly edited docu “Out of Time” displays an almost atavistic level of professional craftsmanship ideally suited to its subject: the fate of four Viennese family-run specialty shops in danger of extinction and their elderly owners. Visually rich, emotionally complex pic imperceptibly builds up interlacing themes with a nearly musical delicacy of touch, expertly blending nostalgia, humor, sexual politics and pathos. Despite its lack of salient hooks, subtly paced and not untimely docu could land a limited arthouse run.

The shop owners’ reactions to their imminent obsolescence vary widely; some seem to insouciantly accept their lot. At the Kienesberger Drugstore, est. 1874, Joseph Kienesberger (aka Pippi) wanders around his old-fashioned stock (prices still in shillings, rung up on a veritable antique of a register), maintaining a running commentary as he recalls his days as an apprentice to Jewish owners before the store was “Aryanized.” He cheerfully exhorts invisible customers to grab his discontinued goods while they still last.

Others are less philosophical. The elegant, impeccably dressed and coiffed Fee Frimmel genteelly bemoans her destiny as passersby stop to exclaim over the quaintness of her button emporium, but fail to cross the threshold. She vents her bitterness about her downwardly mobile marriage of 45 years, but vindication is just around the corner. In an extraordinary scene, satisfaction washes over Frimmel’s face as she watches herself on television graciously accepting the Golden Badge of Merit from the city, her 15 minutes of fame apparently crowning years of bourgeois drudgery.

On a more plebian level, butcher Werner Fritz and his wife Gertrude, having worked in decades-long harmony, are now resolved to retire, much to the consternation of their largely over-the-hill clientele, who walk long distances to frequent the friendly place. Helmer Friedl follows the couple over the last few weeks of their enterprise’s existence — the final meat delivery, the last-minute influx of customers, the emotional farewells.

But pic’s most resonant moments are spent in the back of the Jentsch leather goods store (est. 1874), where Katharina Jentsch speaks of being nestled in the hands of time as she works with a type of leather no longer manufactured. Her husband August cannot imagine abandoning the family business, while his gentle-voiced, still beautiful wife turns out to be a country girl who misses the great outdoors and feels imprisoned by her love.

Friedl seamlessly intercuts among the four establishments according to workplace rhythms and internal trains of thought, opening and closing his film with the raising and lowering of steel shutters. Tech credits, by helmer and lenser/editor Bernhard Potscher, are superb.

Out of Time

Austria

Production

A Six-Pack presentation of a Harald Friedl production, in association with the Austrian Film Commission. (International sales: Austrian Film Commission, Vienna.) Produced, directed, written by Friedl.

Crew

Camera (color), Bernhard Potscher; editor, Potscher; music, Gerald Schuller; sound, Friedl. Reviewed at Documentary Fortnight, New York, Feb. 17, 2008. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Katharina Jentsch, August Jentsch, Joseph Kienesberger, Werner Fritz, Gertrude Fritz, Fee Frimmel. (German dialogue)
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