Fraulein Phyllis

Centered around a deliciously nasty title character who leads a cast of failures, fools and frauds on a merry dance, "Fraulein Phyllis" won't be the cup of tea for auds who demand sympathetic characters with their comedy. Austrian helmer Clemens Schoenborn's feature debut demonstrates audacity, and features a sharp-clawed perf from lead Sophie Rois (last seen in Hendrik Handloegten's "Learning to Lie"); but pic's droopy ending docks points from its final scorecard. Distribs brave enough to pick up this spiky spinster may find it hard getting her theatrical acceptance.

With:
With Sophie Rois, Bernhard Schuetz, Hertha Schell, Susi Stach, Marek Wlodarczyk, Georg Friedrich, Lukas Miko, Gudrun Tielsch.

Centered around a deliciously nasty title character who leads a cast of failures, fools and frauds on a merry dance, “Fraulein Phyllis” won’t be the cup of tea for auds who demand sympathetic characters with their comedy. Austrian helmer Clemens Schoenborn’s feature debut demonstrates audacity, and features a sharp-clawed perf from lead Sophie Rois (last seen in Hendrik Handloegten’s “Learning to Lie”); but pic’s droopy ending docks points from its final scorecard. Distribs brave enough to pick up this spiky spinster may find it hard getting her theatrical acceptance.

Snappy opening reel sets fast-driving Phyllis – an unemployed schemer without ambition who lives with her purse-lipped mother (Hertha Schell) – on a collision course with Henry (butter-featured Bernhard Schuetz), a sweet-but-dweeby actor on a TV medical soap. Their first encounter is less meet-cute than meet-brute, coming as it does just after Phyllis, out of spite, has deliberately given her mother’s dry-cleaning away to a passing old lady.

When Phyllis meets Henry at his studio the next day, she blithely tosses him aside for the chance to have sex with the soap’s star, smarmy Walter (Marek Wlodarczyk), in her mom’s Volvo. Unfortunately, she then runs the vain thesp over and accidentally kills him. Henry is the only witness; but as he walked by and let Walter die, and eventually gets promoted on the soap as a direct result of Walter’s death, he’s not overkeen to turn his erstwhile girlfriend in.

Still, Phyllis starts getting nervous, especially when the cops come round looking for the Volvo. She starts stalking Henry, which leads to yet another fatality for an innocent bystander, much motor damage, and a runaway dog.

If the whole contraption doesn’t quite have enough precision to make it really chug, there’s still enough Austrian skewed humor to keep the gears whirring. Scissor-legged Rois as the ruthless but oddly rootable-for Phyllis struts through the film like a mean-spirited gazelle, although minor characters often threaten to steal the show.

For example, there’s Susi the lovelorn wardrobe mistress (Susi Stach) whose bereavement over Walter’s death doesn’t stop her from continuing to be rude to everyone else left, especially Henry. Likewise, an unnamed hippy bartender (Lukas Miko) gets mixed up in the mess, his only crime seeming to be a tendency to romanticize Asian culture.

Bright and shiny production values sweeten pic’s bitter pill, with Monika Buttinger’s costumes right on the money.

Fraulein Phyllis

Austria

Production: A Fischerfilm production, with participationt of Austrian Film Institute, Vienna Film Fonds WFF, ORF, Arte. (International sales: Flacher Film, Vienna.) Produced by Markus Fischer. Directed, written by Clemens Schoenborn.

Crew: Camera (color), Michael Weihrauch; editors, Andreas Zizmann, Eva Wolf; music, Max Knoth; art director, Yesim Zolan; costume designer, Monika Buttinger; sound (DTS Digital), Bruno Pisek. Reviewed at Moscow Film Festival (Perspectives), June 26, 2004. Running time: 79 MIN.

With: With Sophie Rois, Bernhard Schuetz, Hertha Schell, Susi Stach, Marek Wlodarczyk, Georg Friedrich, Lukas Miko, Gudrun Tielsch.

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