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by Anja Salomonowitz

grade: 7.5

If we think that Anja Salomonowitz made It happened just before twelve years ago, we sadly realise how intelligently prophetic it was and how incredibly topical it still is today.

Everything returns

In a historical moment such as the one we are living through, the documentary It happened just before, made in 2006 by the Viennese director and screenwriter Anja Salomonowitz, is particularly topical. This film is in fact included in the rich programme of the Diagonale 2019 in the section Weiblichkeiten, dedicated to women.

Topical, because Vienna, precisely because of its geographical position, which has always made it a crossroads for every culture, be it western or eastern, has always been faced, in one way or another, with the issue of immigration. And often the issue has taken a not-so-positive turn.

And this is precisely what It happened just before is about: the often sinister aspects that have involved women in particular, including illegal immigration and the exploitation of prostitution. This work was completed after a long research, during which the director collected a large number of direct testimonies, in order to then re-elaborate everything in a documentary form, but also in a completely innovative way.

Divided into five chapters – The Customs House, The Neighbourhood, The Brothel, The Consulate and The Taxi – It happened just before is a film that plays mainly with subtraction, thanks also to the director’s experience in theatre. The testimonies are told in front of the camera by non-professional actors, who, in their everyday lives, have to deal with the working environments in which the chapters are set.

And so, set in a context of normal everyday life, each actor, from time to time, while maintaining a static pose, addresses the camera directly – breaking through the so-called fourth wall with a manner that fully reflects the canons of Brechtian distanciation – telling everything that the director has discovered.

The settings are unusually empty, antiseptic and silent. The camera, on the other hand, knows how to convey the idea of where the characters are, thanks to panning shots that are not afraid to take their time, with a pace that might seem contemplative, but which in fact is not contemplative. This particular and highly sophisticated mise-en-scene, actually, conveys to the viewer an unusual sense of unease. And not only because of the stories the characters tell each time.

What emerges from this staging is, in fact, a scarcely confident attitude in a better future, a sign that all the delusions, all the false expectations that the protagonists have experienced from time to time, have touched those who decided to tell everything through images to the point that It happened just before is constantly filled with blind pessimism, with no way out.

And if we think that Anja Salomonowitz made this work twelve years ago, we sadly realise how intelligently prophetic it was and how incredibly topical it still is. According to the director, the human being – whether man or woman – is no longer considered as such. Rather, people are seen as a possible bargaining chip in a society in which money seems to be the only important thing. For its part, the cyclically repeated story, in a toxic vicious circle, is well portrayed on the screen by the documentary’s elliptical structure, which begins at a customs post, takes place in Austria and ends with a car driving away to other countries, to other shores.

Original title: Kurz davor ist es passiert
Directed by: Anja Salomonowitz
Country/year:Austria / 2006
Running time: 72’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Anja Salomonowitz
Cinematography: Jo Molitoris
Produced by: AMOUR FOU Vienna

Info: the page of It happened just before on the website of the Austrian Film Commission