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by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala

grade: 8

The controversial Goodnight Mommy was able to create something new and, in its own way, unexpected, by combining aesthetics and storytelling in a highly elegant way and drawing on the canons of German expressionism of the 1920s.

Eyes Without a Face

71st Venice Film Festival, summer 2014. Within the interesting Orizzonti section was premiered one of the most disturbing features of the festival: the psychological horror film Goodnight Mommy (original title: Ich seh Ich seh), directed by Veronika Franz together with her young nephew Severin Fiala. At the same time, out of competition, the controversial Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl – Franz’s husband – presented to audience and press the documentary In the Basement, also a film that has been much talked about in the rich and varied film scene of Lido. In the same event, Austria was also able to boast two titles, each of them more than worthy.

Even if, however, for some time now, at least within festivals, many people had already noticed Seidl’s name, the director and film critic Veronika Franz was until then largely unknown to most audiences and critics. At least outside Austria, of course. Considering this, then, the controversial Goodnight Mommy (subsequently presented at the Diagonale 2015 – where it won the Grand Diagonale Prize – and released in Italy only in a home video version) was a real surprise, as well as a horror film that, skilfully playing with elements that have always recurred within the above-mentioned film genre, has been able to create something new and, in its own way, unexpected, by combining in a highly sophisticated way aesthetics and storytelling and by referring in every way – with a very accurate play of light and shadows and a well planned setting – to the canons of German Expressionism of the 1920s.

The story begins in the most classic of ways: there is a big, isolated villa at Vienna outskirts. There are two ten-year-old twins who are very close to each other and always spend their long summer afternoons together, by playing at home or running through the fields. And finally, there’ s a mother, apparently strict in an (almost) unjustified way, whose face is completely covered with bandages after a mysterious accident. One of the two children is completely ignored by the woman, so that the children doubt whether she’ s their own mother. Things, however, are not at all what they seem.

There is no doubt about it: what Veronika Franz, together with the young Severin Fiala, wanted to stage is not something completely new. At least if we only consider the script. Yet, at a careful glance, what we have seen is the fruit of a skilful interplay of contemporary and past elements, with almost “burnt” by the light characters with incredibly hard-edged borders who, by disappearing into dark environments such as a wood or a cave, continuously jump from one dimension to another – the dreamlike one and the real one – confusing us and playing with us from the very first minutes.

The two directors boast an important cultural background and have borrowed heavily – visually speaking – from Georges Franju (it”s impossible, sometimes, not to think of the extraordinary Eyes without a Face, shot in 1960), from the (relatively) recent Hotel (2004), by their countrywoman Jessica Hausner or even from Luis Buñuel (particularly emblematic, in this regard, is the scene in which we see the woman’s bloodshot eye suddenly staring, reflected in a mirror, at her son who is spying on her at the bathroom door). The result is, however, something totally new and with its own, strong identity, which – also thanks to a good twist – turned out to be one of the most successful horror films of the last years, able to maintain a strong emotional crescendo without ever being predictable or banal. In short, Ulrich Seidl was right once again in deciding to produce this film. But then again, who else but him could have done it?

Original title: Ich seh Ich seh
Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Country/year: Austria / 2014
Running time: 99’
Genre: horror
Cast: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Hans Escher, Elfriede Schatz, Karl Purker
Screenplay:Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH
Distribuzione: Koch Media

Info: Goodnight Mommy’s website