schauspielerin-2018-hermeling-review

SCHAUSPIELERIN

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by Tobias Hermeling

grade: 7.5

The no longer young (but incredibly fascinating in its melancholy) face of Brigitte Karner in Schauspielerin is lovingly filmed by a camera that immediately becomes an intimate observer of the protagonist’s soul, giving her a series of close-ups, details and, last but not least, shots showing her reflected on a window pane, made even more precious by a sophisticated black and white.

Actress

The crisis of an artist considered too old or not as interesting as in the past has been staged over and over again in the film history. And if many will remember (after all, how can one forget?) a desperate Norma Desmond (played by an unforgettable Gloria Swanson) in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), it won’t take long for the (unnamed) protagonist of Schauspielerin (literally translated: actress), the newest work by Austrian director and video artist Tobias Hermeling, presented as part of the official selection at the Diagonale 2019, to enter the hearts of spectators.

The actress is played by the great Brigitte Karner (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and her character, from the moment she appears in despair, sitting at a table and being consoled by a nun (with a Jewish candelabra behind her), seems inevitably destined to make her mark on the screen.

Brigitte Karner’s (as well as Tobias Hermeling’s) “Schauspielerin” is a no-longer-young woman who, although still very beautiful, finds the passing of the years and, above all, the fact that no film or television production seems to really want to call her, hard to accept. Her only friend is her dog Emilia, who accompanies her wherever she goes.

Contrast plays a central role in the protagonist’s life. The contrast generated by a Catholic nun and a Jewish candelabra placed behind her (as in the aforementioned opening scene). The contrast of a way of working that is considered obsolete, compared to what is produced in the present. Last but not least, the contrast between a body that is no longer young and a spirit eager to get back in the game. Just like twenty, thirty, forty years before.

Brigitte Karner’s no longer young (but incredibly fascinating in its melancholy) face is lovingly (but also mercilessly) filmed by a camera that immediately becomes an intimate observer of the protagonist’s soul, giving her a series of close-ups, details and, last but not least, shots showing her reflected on a window pane (with a suggestive play of light) made even more precious by a refined black and white, which although, on the one hand, unjustly relegates the protagonist to a past time, on the other hand inevitably makes her deservedly universal and immortal.

Hermeling’s career in the field of video art is consequently more important than ever. The director enjoys playing with his protagonist and with the audience, occasionally giving the film the tone of a videoclip (which is clearly an intimate stream of consciousness), with such unexpected, precise and sudden cuts that surprise the viewer, conveying the idea of the protagonist’s inner conflict.

And so Brigitte Karner’s Schauspielerin (eager to be observed again, but also eager to observe herself as a young woman in old films) soon turns out to be a much darker character – and, above all, who struggles to get out of the abyss into which she has fallen – than the Myrtle Gordon of John Cassavetes’ Opening Night (1977), but who inevitably ends up being the exact double of the aforementioned Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard (albeit her less ruthless version).

A sort of female version of Calvero in Limelight (1952) without the friendship of sincere colleagues, who seems even more hopelessly lonely in the heartbreaking moment when we see her cowering (in a Tarkovskian pose) in the place where her beloved dog Emilia is buried. Probably her one, true, great lifelong friend.

Original title: Schauspielerin
Directed by: Tobias Hermeling
Country/year: Austria / 2018
Running time: 97’
Genre: drama
Cast: Brigitte Karner, Schwester Immaculata, Johanna Lonsky, Teresa Bönisch, Viktoria Blaschek, Gernot Haas, Michael Jirsak, Ingrid Oberkanins, Peter Huber
Screenplay:Tobias Hermeling, Brigitte Karner
Cinematography: Tobias Hermeling
Produced by: Tobias Hermeling

Info: Schauspielerin’s page on the website of the Diagonale