You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

What Is Love

Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu "What Is Love" strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic's unpunctuated title question.

Cast:
With: Saskia Maca, Walter Scalet, Eva Suchy, Florentina Suchy, Jonas Horak, Thomas Rath, Sandra Steininger, Bernhard Hatzl, Andreas Steininger, Michael Bubna, Helene Bubna, Maximilian Bubna, Wenzel Bubna, Lukas Bubna.

Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian fare, especially given this rarefied work’s similarity to fellow Austrian Ulrich Seidl’s docu efforts, even if it’s not as twisted or bleak. But pic won’t find much love among distribs beyond Teutonic territories. All the same, feelings of affection from fest programmers will be strong.

Each of the pic’s miniaturist studies feels self-sufficient enough to work as shorts, although the cumulative impact they offer as a package would be lost as such.

The first, most emotionally charged chapter tracks thirtysomething ophthalmologist Saskia Maca as she moves around her spacious but ominously empty home, examines several patients, and later cuddles her sister’s newborn child. At times, a look of what might be loneliness, bereavement or maybe just indigestion clouds Maca’s pretty features, but no explanation of her circumstances is ever offered. Given she’s seen dancing in a nightclub, auds might infer she’s looking for love, but hasn’t yet found it.

In contrast with the first installment’s hushed tone, the second features a garrulous twosome (Walter Scalet and Eva Suchy) who clearly have been through couples’ therapy of some sort, given the way they discuss domestic issues, methodically pausing to acknowledge and review each emotion. (“I hear that you are unhappy with the way I did the dishes and acknowledge it,” is roughly the gist of their talk.)

A very different kind of love — love of God — anchors the third segment, which centers on priest Jonas Horak, seen preparing for a service and later distributing leaflets in the street with members of his flock. Then it’s back to families and couples with the next two installments. Young mother Sandra Steininger is seen toiling in a factory, an oddly mesmerizing interlude that features one of the pic’s very few uses of a moving camera. Finally, bourgeois hausfrau Helen Bubna chides her husband Michael for not taking her out more often.

Based on evidence here, love is rather less a many-splendored thing than a matter of compromise, the endurance of drudgery, and a willingness to wear neckties even if you hate them, a pleasingly honest if unromantic assessment. As such, the pic is fairly congruent with Mader’s “Struggle,” which similarly explored fraught parental feelings, loneliness and dysfunctional relationships. And like “Struggle,” “What Is Love” straddles the line between docu and fiction, staying just barely on the side of the former although clearly certain sequences have been choreographed or partially staged in advance.

Use of proper film stock adds an extra heft to the proceedings, which could so easily have been shot on digital. Long takes and static set-ups enhance the air of arthouse minimalism, but there’s a clear precision to Mader’s method.

What Is Love

Austria

Production: A Thimfilm release of a KGP Kranzelbinder Gabriele Prod. production, with the support of Austrian Film Institute, Filmstandort Austria, ORF film/Fernseh-Abkommen, Filmfonds Wien, Land Niederoesterreich, Cinestyria Filmkunst. (International sales: Thimfilm, Vienna.) Produced by Gabriele Kranzelbinde. Directed, written by Ruth Mader.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Joerg Goenner; editor, Niki Mossboec; music, Manfred Pless; sound, Ekkerhart Baumung; supervising sound editors, Karoline Heflin, Sabine Maie; assistant director, Libertad Hackl. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb, 15, 2012. Running time: 78 MIN.

With: With: Saskia Maca, Walter Scalet, Eva Suchy, Florentina Suchy, Jonas Horak, Thomas Rath, Sandra Steininger, Bernhard Hatzl, Andreas Steininger, Michael Bubna, Helene Bubna, Maximilian Bubna, Wenzel Bubna, Lukas Bubna.

More Film

  • Progression Image 3 of 3: Final

    Box Office: 'Coco' Battling 'Justice League' for Top Thanksgiving Spot

    Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian […]

  • Harvey Weinstein Bob Weinstein

    Bob Weinstein Personally Paid Off Two of Harvey’s Accusers in 1990s, According to New Yorker

    Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian […]

  • Wang Jianlin Wanda

    Wanda-Sony Pictures Financing Deal Is Over

    Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian […]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Female-Led Investor Groups Target Weinstein Co. Acquisition

    Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian […]

  • Escape a la India

    Ventana Sur: 'Escape to India,' 'Noah's Ark,' 'Inzomnia' Among Projects at Animation!

    Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian […]

  • Director Brillante Mendoza poses for photographers

    Brillante Mendoza to Head Jury at Malaysia Festival

    Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian […]

  • TV Gains Offsets Film Losses at

    TV Gains Offsets Film Losses at Entertainment One

    Uncompromisingly elliptical, but often touching and funny, partly staged docu “What Is Love” strings together five portraits of relatively ordinary Austrians whose daily activities provide oblique answers to the pic’s unpunctuated title question. Film reps the long-time-coming follow-up to Austrian writer-helmer Ruth Mader’s 2003 debut “Struggle,” and will enhance her reputation for austere, typically Austrian […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content