Diverse slate highlights new crop of homegrown talent

Austrian cinema looks set to continue its ascent through a rich and diverse lineup of films this year that explore wide-ranging themes, from domestic family life to global phenomena, genre titles to historical drama, from both established helmers and a new generation of filmmakers.

Austrian film has made an international impact in recent years with such pics as “The Bone Man,” “The Robber,” “Revanche” and “The White Ribbon,” and 2011 promises more ambitious projects.

Wolfgang Murnberger’s high-profile Berlinale screener “My Best Enemy” has already attracted plenty of attention. His gritty thriller “The Bone Man” became 2009’s most successful local film at the Austrian box office and its considerable buzz has made “My Best Enemy” one of the most anticipated Austrian pics this year.

The World War II-era dark comedy revolves around two childhood pals whose friendship is put to the test when one is forced to don a Nazi uniform while the other is sent to a concentration camp. The film, which stars Moritz Bleibtreu and Georg Friedrich, excited buyers early on. Beta Cinema, which is handling international sales, inked a slew of deals for the pic last year in Cannes, where “My Best Enemy” sold to the U.K., China and the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It has since gone to Japan and Latin America.

Says Beta managing director Dirk Schuerhoff: “Wolfgang Murnberger is one of the Austrian directors that can have an international career.”

Beta previously handled Murnberger’s 2006 family film “Lapis-lazuli.”

Schuerhoff says the tragicomedy offers a fresh angle to an oft-visited subject matter by portraying the Jewish main character not as a victim but rather as a survivor. “The film is about friendship, love, betrayal and survival.”

Martin Schweighofer, managing director of the Austrian Film Commission, which promotes Austrian cinema around the world, stresses that the strength of Austrian cinema today lies in its rich diversity.

“That diversity is really there. It’s really a wide field going through all genres. The more established filmmakers are there but what is new this year and what is reassuring is the fact that we have a large number of first-time filmmakers with films coming up that are very promising.”

Schweighofer points to Marie Kreutzer’s debut feature, “The Fatherless.” The family drama, which is world preeming in the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar, is the story of a group of siblings who grew up in a hippie commune and reunite for their father’s funeral only to be stunned by the arrival of their long-lost sister, prompting a disturbing journey into their past.

” ‘Fatherless,’ ” says Schweighofer, “is a very, very nice and positive surprise. I think Marie Kreutzer is really someone to keep an eye on, adding that

“the variety is really the strength. And we’ve had that strength for the last couple of years, and it’s even more visible this year. It’s always a good sign. There’s a real dynamic. It’s a healthy mixture, from documentaries to genre films, comedies that are more targeted to an Austrian audience, and films with more typical arthouse themes that are clearly targeted to a more international market.”

Case in point: Filmmaking duo Rainer Frimmel and Tizza Covi, whose debut feature “La Pivellina” — another 2010 Berlinale screener — became this year’s Austrian entry for the foreign-lingo Oscar. Frimmel and Covi are finishing “Der glanz des tages” (The Shine of Day), which stars Philipp Hochmair as a young and successful actor who has difficulties distinguishing his fictional life on stage from reality.

Other highly anticipated titles include Karl Markovics’ debut work “Atmen” (Breathe), about an imprisoned teen offender who, in the process of resocialization, finds work at a mortuary pick-up service in Vienna and soon makes a startling discovery. While new to directing, Markovics is an established actor and has appeared in such films as “The Counterfeiters.”

Schweighofer says Austrian film has to be seen today in “a very European context” in view of the fact that Austria is a small country. Filmmakers are looking at the larger picture, beyond borders and at an increasingly globalized world society.

Michael Glawogger continues his global examination of the human condition in “Whore’s Glory.” Giving voice to prostitutes in Mexico, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal and Vienna, Glawogger focuses on distinct individuals who nevertheless share common desires, hopes, needs and brutalities.

The pic is similar in scope to Glawogger’s past documentaries such as 1998’s “Megacities,” which follows desperate individuals trying to survive in Mumbai, Mexico City, Moscow and New York, and 2005’s “Workingman’s Death,” which looks at the extremes to which laborers will go to survive in Ukraine, Nigeria, Pakistan and China.

Similarly, Hubert Sauper is finishing up “Entente cordiale” (Friendly Agreement), the second part of his documentary trilogy encompassing slavery, colonization and globalization.

Having already explored the catastrophic effects of globalization in Africa in 2004’s “Darwin’s Nightmare,” “Entente” now examines the impact of modern-day colonization.

In the same vein, “Abendland” (Occident), by Nikolaus Geyrhalter (“Our Daily Bread”), serves as a study of modern European society.

Also a leading producer of documentary works and feature films via his Vienna-based Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion (NGF), Geyrhalter has produced such pics as Benjamin Heisenberg’s “The Robber,” about an adrenalin-addicted marathon runner who gets his kicks by robbing banks. The pic preemed at the Berlinale last year and went on to scoop seven nominations at this year’s Austrian Film Awards.

Meanwhile, Ulrich Seidl is following up his dark 2007 drama “Import Export” with “Paradise,” which tells the stories of three women on holiday: a sex tourist who travels to Kenya; a devote Catholic eager to reinvigorate Austria with the word of God; and a young woman who loses her innocence at a weight-loss camp.

It’s going to be a very good year for Austrian film, Schweighofer predicts, and insists he’s not just saying that because of his position at the film commission.

“I tend to be quite critical of what the outlook is and I try to be realistic, but seriously, I’m very optimistic about this year.”

White ribbon pics: Four noteworthy Austian films for sale at Berlin

“The Poll Diaries”
(Germany, Austria, Estonia co-production)
Director: Chris Kraus
Producers: Alexandra Kordes, Meika Kordes
Cast: Jeanette Hain, Tambert Tuisk, Paula Beer, Edgar Selge
Logline: In summer 1914 on the eve of World War I, a 14-year-old German girl returns to her home on the Baltic coast, a place uneasily shared by Germans, Russians and Estonians. While her morbid scientist father controls the family with cruel hand, the girl secretly nurses a wounded Estonian anarchist back to health, which sets off a chain reaction of events.
Sales: Bavaria Film Intl.

“Follow Me”
Director: Johannes Hammel
Producers: Johannes Hammel
Cast: Daniela Holtz, Roland Jaeger, Simon Jung, Karl Fischer, Charlotte Ullrich
Logline: Family drama follows a worried mother who develops a severe case of agoraphobia after her son suffers a serious accident, and increasingly barricades herself and her family in their home. In Berlinale Forum sidebar.

“My Best Enemy “

(Austrian-Swiss-German co-production)
Director: Wolfgang Murnberger
Producers: Josef Aichholzer, Jani Thiltges
Cast: Moritz Bleibtreu, Georg Friedrich
Logline: Set in 1938, Bleibtreu stars as the son of Jewish art dealers, whose childhood friend joins the SS while he is sent to a concentration camp. When a missing Michelangelo painting causes complications, the two suddenly reverse roles. Screening in the Berlinale mainbar in an out of competition slot.
Sales: Beta

“The Fatherless”
Director: Marie Kreutzer
Producers: Robert Buchschwenter,
Alexander Glehr, Franz Novotny, Ursula Wolschlager
Cast: Andreas Kiendl, Andrea Wentzl
Logline: The family drama, which is world preeming in the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar, is the story of a group of siblings who grew up in a hippie commune and reunite for their father’s funeral only to be stunned by the arrival of their long-lost sister, prompting a disturbing journey into their past. Berlinale screening in Panorama.
Sales: Novotny & Novotny Film Produktion

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