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by Katharina Mückstein

grade: 7.5

In L’Animale, Katarina Mückstein, despite her little experience behind the camera, has portrayed the world of adolescents with commendable skill, demonstrating her ability to deal with difficult subjects with a lightness reminiscent of the French school.

The happiest times of our lives

Ma l’animale che mi porto dentro
non mi fa vivere felice mai
si prende tutto anche il caffè
mi rende schiavo delle mie passioni
e non si arrende mai e non sa attendere
e l’animale che mi porto dentro vuole te.”
from L’Animale by Franco Battiato

Few people know that the coming-of-age genre is particularly dear to contemporary Austrian film directors. In fact, in one way or another, many have treated this genre at least once during their career. Many will remember, for example, the young protagonist of Lovely Rita, directed in 2001 by Jessica Hausner, as well as the deranged teenagers of Benny’s Video (1992) or Funny Games (1997) and Funny Games U. S. ( 2007), directed by Michael Haneke. Looking exclusively at what has been released in the last year, however, there are a couple of particularly interesting titles in this regard: Seventeen (Siebzehn), a debut feature by young director Monja Art (premiered at the Diagonale 2017) and L’Animale, the second feature by Katharina Mückstein, presented within the Panorama Special section at the 68th Berlin Film Festival and third place – according to audience preferences – in the aforementioned section.

Inspired by the famous song by Franco Battiato (hence the title), L’Animale presents many stories of people in search of their own identity, their own place in the world, who, tired of playing the role they have been playing for so many years, begin to wonder who they really are and what their role in society is.

The story is set in the deep suburbs of Austria. Central, cosmopolitan Vienna seems light years away, yet young Mati can’t wait to move there as soon as she finishes high school. Her dream is to become a veterinarian like her mother, whom she often assists when she’s not at school or with her friends: a group of motocross and disco- addicted bullies. She has a distinctly masculine look, Mati. She doesn’t seem to feel at ease in elegant clothes (the opening scene, in which the girl looks at herself unconvinced in the mirror after trying on her graduation dress while her mother looks on with satisfaction, is particularly emblematic in this regard), and even in her free time she prefers the company of boys. However, things change when she meets Carla, a girl of her same age who works in a supermarket and with whom she had a fight during a night out at a club.

Only at this point Mati begins to ask herself who she really is and what does she want from life. She begins a difficult introspective journey in parallel to her father, who, after years of apparently happy marriage, turns out to be homosexual.

A sensitive and layered work, then, this by the young Mückstein, who, despite her little experience behind the camera, has been able to portray the world of adolescents with commendable skill, proving to be perfectly capable of treating difficult subjects with a lightness that recalls the French school, which, starting with the Nouvelle Vague with Franҫois Truffaut and Éric Rohmer, through to authors such as Catherine Breillat, Arnaud Desplechin and Céline Sciamma (just to name a few) told us about youth as no one else had ever done before.

The only mistake made by the director during the staging phase is probably represented by the moment in which, off-screen, we listen to the aforementioned song by Battiato and see, at the same time, the protagonists singing the verses while looking into the camera: a risky breaking of the fourth wall, which, however, was definitely not in line with what was being shown. But there it is. Since it was just a single moment in a more than satisfactory context, the “sin” can be considered venial.

And then there’s her, the marvellous Sophie Stockinger, the film’s intense and magnetic protagonist. As Katharina Mückstein said, the character of Mati was written with her in mind. The director and screenwriter had already worked with her in 2013 during the making of her debut feature, Talea. So welcome when similar alchemies are created between actors and directors. One wonders, in our case, how this exciting journey, in which two young women describe the world of young people, will evolve. This is, of course, just the beginning.

Original title: L’Animale
Directed by: Katharina Mückstein
Country/year: Austria / 2018
Running time: 97’
Genre: drama, teen movie, coming-of-age
Cast: Sophie Stockinger, Kathrin Resetarits, Dominik Warta, Julia Franz Richter, Jack Hofer
Screenplay: Katharina Mückstein
Cinematography: Michael Schindegger
Produced by: Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion, La Banda Film

Info: L’Animale’s page on the website of the Austrian Film Commission