In the opening sequence of 29-year-old Ruth Mader’s first feature, an old lady throws urine on a doctor during a hospital visit. What follows, though mercifully brief at 76 minutes, is scarcely more edifying, as Mader explores in a relentless, documentary-style the miserable lives of an illegal Polish worker in Austria and a divorced, middle-aged real estate agent. Only the most indulgent festivals will program this gloomy item after its Cannes debut, and commercial chances appear non-existent.
Ewa (Aleksandra Justa) wants a better life in Austria for herself and her small daughter. In well photographed but agonizingly over-extended sequences, she works as a strawberry picker (mostly in driving rain), in a turkey processing plant and as a cleaner. She doesn’t communicate with her fellow workers, or even with her daughter.
Harold (Gottfried Breitfuss) tries to persuade his singularly unimpressed daughter to tell him she loves him. He spends his working hours inspecting empty warehouses, and at night eats alone. But he takes part in a seriously kinky sexual scene where he meets Ewa.
Mader observes her characters’ pain unblinkingly, but she doesn’t bring the insight needed for viewers to sympathize with her wretched protagonists. The result is an unpleasant film, not so much confronting as simply numbing, and it seems longer than it actually is.