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by Ludwig Wüst

grade: 7.5

In Departure, every single element is full of strong symbolism and, at the same time, reaches the spectator in a direct way, by speaking a universal language and classifying itself as an apology for true values and freedom.

A new life

A worthy representative of Austria, the director, screenwriter and actor Ludwig Wüst could not fail to be present at the Berlinale 2018. The film director, who has been known and appreciated in Austria for many years, being compared to authors such as Michael Haneke, Ulrich Seidl or the Dardenne brothers, has always stood out for his extreme but also minimalist and visually and emotionally striking style. A director who has never been afraid of daring and experimenting new languages, without worrying about being almost unpopular at times, given the marked authorship of his works (many of which often resemble veritable video installations). An important name, therefore, as far as contemporary Austrian cinema is concerned. It is a pity, however, that a name like Wüst’s is practically unknown abroad. At least outside the classic festival circuits. This, however, doesn’t mean that an author like him is not worthy of attention. On the contrary, precisely because of his very personal style of staging, he can rightfully be considered one of the names to keep an eye on.

With an already important career behind him, Wüst presented at the 68th Berlin Film Festival – in the Forum section – his eleventh feature film, Departure (Aufbruch in the original version), in which his extreme style tells us the story of two lonely people who meet and who, without the need for words, manage to find a way to understand and communicate with each other, discovering that they have much more in common than it may initially seem. We are talking about a man (played by Wüst himself) who has just left home – after a furious argument with his wife, as can be deduced from a phone call – driving a simple ape-car, and a woman (Claudia Martini) who has just left her partner and is sitting, alone and dismayed, on a bench, holding a bottle of grappa and a book of Russian poems. By a strange twist of fate, the two meet and become “fellow travellers”, without a specific aim, but stopping every now and then, first in a carpenter’s workshop, then in an old abandoned house (probably once belonging to the woman). And so, similarly to what happens in Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron (2004), this odd couple of travellers enjoy – respectfully, of course – occupying the places they visit (the man first builds a cross in the carpentry workshop, while the woman leaves her mark on the house by painting a wall with her hands, for example).

Dialogues are minimal, as are camera movements. What Wüst’s skilful direction mainly relies on are the numerous close-ups of the characters’ hands and faces. It is the slow but sure gestures that, in a contemplative way, become the (almost) absolute protagonists of the first part of the film.

And so, holding the previously constructed cross, the book of poems, the bottle of grappa and a couple of potatoes picked from a garden, the two – finally ready for a new life and, in any case, for a symbolic rebirth – are about to cross a river – a sort of suburban Acheron – ready to start from scratch, finally far from any material wealth. But perhaps what is in store for them will be something totally unexpected.

Nothing is left to chance in Wüst’s Departure. Every single element, as well as every single shot, is charged with a strong symbolism, but at the same time reaches the spectator in a direct way, by speaking a universal language and classifying itself, by right, as a real apology for true values and freedom, which, in turn, are opposed to frenzy and, above all, to the modern consumerism. Wüst’s work, due to the care with which it has been directed and, above all, due to its marked and singular authorship, distinguishes itself within a large – and varied – section like Forum, where attention to new languages and different ways of making films has long played a central role in the selection criteria for each feature film.

Original title: Aufbruch
Directed by: Ludwig Wüst
Country/year: Austria / 2018
Running time: 110’
Genre: drama
Cast: Ludwig Wüst, Claudia Martini, Suse Lichtenberger
Screenplay: Ludwig Wüst
Cinematography: Klemens Koscher
Produced by:

Info: Departure’s page on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; Departure’s page on Ludwig Wüst’s website