Serving up large helpings of old school art film madness, “Jedermann’s Fest” is equal parts nonsense and beauty, with great Austrian thesp Klaus Maria Brandauer getting his biggest screen workout in years as a high-fashion maven facing his last night on earth. Pic, slated for fall release in Germany, was savaged on native Austrian turf in January, but could attract some cult attention Stateside.
Three-hour slab of ‘Scope pictorialism, loosely inspired by Hugo von Hoffmansthal’s 1911 update of the medieval “Everyman” play, finds Brandauer as Jan Jedermann (or John Everyman), a fiftysomething couturier. A big deal in his native Austria, he remains galled that he never made a splash in Paris and decides to hold one more really big show.
High atop the Vienna Opera House, his “babies” — as he calls his stable of beautiful models (and, indeed, the pic boasts a cross-section of the loveliest gals to be found in Central Europe) — display the latest duds in a choreographed Dance of the Seven Veils that culminates in lead Salome disrobing to reveal herself as a naked old crone.
Jedermann’s mainly interested in the reaction of French style monger Yvonne Becker. (Juliette Greco, in her first screen appearance in 25 years, gets special lighting, but less care was taken dubbing her into German.) He has a stellar event planned at his dilapidated country villa, complete with a Vietnamese cooking crew and a marzipan replica of his red Ferrari. When Yvonne appears to snub his party, it confirms his sense that he will be dead before the feast is over.
In fact, helmer-scripter Fritz Lehner, a controversial Austrian tube and feature vet, gives strong indications that said Ferrari, repeatedly seen in a pool of industrial waste water, never even arrived at the blowout and that most of what we see is actually in the flickering consciousness of a dying man.
Along its stream-of-thought way, pic also lightly touches on the antihero’s tenuous relationships with dark-haired Isabelle (Alexa Sommer), seemingly his live-in love, and with the young blond Cocaine (Veronika Lucanska), who wants to replace her, as well as his fraught masculine connections with longtime photographer Gerry (Jim Rakete) and acolyte Daniel (Redbad Klynstra), the assistant he tries to humiliate.
Jedermann is inexplicably hostile to his doting, wheelchair-bound father (Otto Tausig), reserving all affection for his late mother, in whose tobacco kiosk he spent happy childhood hours. In one of production designer Anna Prankl’s many impressive creations, that kiosk is found intact, in a recess of Jan’s apartment — or in an imaginary dream version of it, anyway.
These threads of memory and psychological insight don’t always connect in an easily perceptible manner, and they definitely don’t add up to plot advancement in any normal sense. The late arrival of Sophie (Sylvie Testud), the father’s down-to-earth nurse, doesn’t add the character contrast Lehner seems to be looking for, and some of his repetitious effects, such as frequently cutting to a homely Vietnamese girl, are more ludicrous than revelatory.
Brandauer does a good job piquing our interest, but some of his Big Acting crescendos could be toned down. These and many other moments could profitably be cut from “Fest.”
Indeed, any narrative confusion resulting from a healthy trim would merely add enigmatic appeal to a pic whose best moments (like those gorgeous models) are more striking for their stand-alone beauty than for anything related to storytelling coherence. Manfred Arbter’s ominous sound mix adds visceral allure.