In Angelo, through the story of an individual, the director staged the complicated – and sadly topical – theme of diversity, taking the opportunity to develop a lucid and merciless analysis of society and – more generally – of humanity, regardless of the century in which we live.
Austria, as we know, has been experiencing a sort of fracture within its society for several decades now. While on the one hand we have a (substantial) part of the population who are nostalgic for the empire and totally intolerant of outsiders, on the other hand there is always a section of intellectuals who have been criticising for years those who do not want to be open to “others”. Nowadays, moreover, these issues are becoming more and more topical and delicate, to the point that, even in the Seventh Art, many people want to have their say. But let’s leave this issue for a moment and – leaving Austria – let’s go back in time and reopen a previously closed parenthesis.
While in 2010 the movie Black Venus (directed by the Tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche) had deeply struck both audiences and critics by staging the cruel story of Saartjie Baartman, a Hottentot girl who in the nineteenth century was exhibited as an attraction in European elite circles, here comes directly from the Viennale 2018 (a co-production with Luxembourg) to the screens of the thirty-sixth edition of the Torino Film Festival – in competition Torino 36 – and to the Diagonale 2019 the feature film Angelo – third film directed by Markus Schleinzer, Michael Haneke’s long-time assistant and casting director for Haneke himself, as well as Jessica Hausner and Ulrich Seidl – which stages the true story of Angelo Soliman, who arrived in Europe from Africa at the beginning of the 18th century, was adopted by a local countess and used as an educational experiment, to the point of being forced to perform as a musician and actor for the local nobles.
This story, almost as crude as Kechiche’s previous feature, is told through images in a sophisticated work in which, through the stories of an individual, the director stages the complicated – and sadly topical – theme of diversity, taking the opportunity to develop a lucid and merciless analysis of society and – more generally – of humanity, regardless of the century in which we live. This is a criticism that Schleinzer – like many of his colleagues from the same country – has often made in his previous works (it is impossible not to mention his first film Michael, just to give an example).
And so, with a long shot – and exclusively in 4:3 – we see, at the beginning of the film, the arrival of the young Angelo, who, while still a child, is chosen from among many by a magnanimous countess (played by Alba Rohrwacher), who will have him baptised and take him into her care. It is interesting to see how, in spite of her good intentions, the countess herself is, deep down, frightened by the child’s “diversity” and always ready to become defensive, especially when, at night – as often happens to children when they have nightmares – the little one approaches her bed in search of affection and protection. This, however, is only the first chapter and – in spite of sporadic episodes that let us foresee bad times – represents, in fact, the happiest period for the young protagonist. In the two remaining chapters into which this work is divided we see a real crescendo of cruelty and cynicism, until an unexpected and absurd final climax.
An annihilating story, then, and a particularly elegant mise-en-scène which, perfectly in line with the settings, uses mainly soft lighting (interestingly, some of the images are even reminiscent of paintings by Caravaggio or – in the case of the dream scenes – Diego Velazquez), sumptuous, but at the same time unadorned palaces with essential furnishings and, last but not least, sophisticated music, with harpsichord pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Joseph Haydn, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti and Alessandro Costantini.
For their part, the characters tend – especially in long shots – to remain static, immobile, almost motionless (and here the influence of the master Seidl is clear), perfectly in line with their personalities and giving the viewer a sense of powerlessness and despair that a single individual can feel in relation to an already established community, within which – despite numerous hypocrisies and fake kindnesses – there is no place for those considered ‘different’.
Original title: Angelo
Directed by: Markus Schleinzer
Country/year: Austria, Luxembourg / 2018
Running time: 111’
Genre: drama, biographical, biopic
Cast: Makita Samba, Alba Rohrwacher, Larisa Faber, Kenny Nzogang
Screenplay: Alexander Brom, Markus Schleinzer
Cinematography: Gerald Kerkletz
Produced by: Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion GmbH, Amour Fou Luxembourg, Markus Schleinzer, ORF