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by Michael Kreihsl
Die Wunderübung is a light and pleasant comedy, but as it approaches the end, its essential narrative twists inevitably turn out to be too weak, and it progressively runs out of steam.
For better or worse
There are many famous feature films based on theatre plays. Some of them quite successful. In fact, if we think back even just a few years, among the most interesting works we undoubtedly find Carnage by Roman Polanski (2012), not to mention all those French comedies set during meetings between friends, such as The Dinner Game (1998) or the better known What’s in a Name? (2012). However, things become even more interesting if the central issue is a complicated couple crisis, whether latent or obvious to everyone. In this regard, Austrian director Michael Kreihsl has decided to make a film adaptation of a play by Danel Glattauer, thus creating the romantic comedy Die Wunderübung, presented in the official selection at the Diagonale 2019.
One location, three good actors. A couple who drags on wearily for seventeen years and a therapist who, according to him, is a veteran expert in these crises. We have the location, we have the actors, so all that remains is to hope that things will develop for the best (regardless of a happy ending).
Thus begins the meeting between Valentin (Devid Striesow, best known for his role in Stefan Ruzowitzky’s The Counterfeiters) and his wife Joana (Aglaia Szyszkowitz), with a renowned couples therapist (Erwin Steinhauer). During this meeting, the couple, who met seventeen years ago by chance underwater and who seem to have lost the understanding that once united them, will try, while bickering, to resolve any outstanding issues.
This, of course, requires a good script in order to have a successful conclusion. And while overall Die Wunderübung has good rhythms throughout, there is one particular moment when, following a phone call to the therapist from his wife, things suddenly take a different turn. It’ s no longer Valentin and Joana who are in crisis, but their doctor and his wife. So what to do? Comfort him? Try to find a solution so that he can solve his problems?
A continuous back-and-forth, together with the excellent performances of the actors, is the real added value of the film. In spite of essential twists that inevitably end up being too weak to be credible and to make the spectator follow the couple’s story with interest.
This, however, is unfortunately one of the greatest risks when one wants to base a work (be it a play or a feature film) entirely on dialogue. A risk that Michael Kreihsl has unfortunately not managed to avoid. His Die Wunderübung is therefore a light and pleasant comedy, but as we approach the end it gradually ends up running out of steam. What a pity.
Original title: Die Wunderübung
Directed by: Michael Kreihsl
Country/year: Austria / 2018
Running time: 92’
Genre: comedy, romance
Cast: Aglaia Szyszkowitz, Devid Striesow, Erwin Steinhauer
Screenplay: Michael Kreihsl
Cinematography: Wolfgang Thaler
Produced by: Allegro Film