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by Barbara Albert

grade: 7

Sunspots (the last short film before Barbara Albert’s debut into the world of full-length films, made in 1998), while presenting a decidedly experimental approach, is strikingly reminiscent of Nordrand, the debut film by the Viennese director, actress and film producer, directed the following year.

That great desire of freedom

The striking similarity – in terms of themes, setting and also the choice of Nina Proll as leading actress – between Sunspots (original title, Sonnenflecken) – the last short film before Barbara Albert’s 1998 feature film debut – and Nordrand, the debut feature by the Viennese director, actress and film producer, directed the following year, is immediately evident.

If, in fact, in the film that officially introduced the director to the “Olympus of the Greats”, in terms of contemporary Austrian productions, the Vienna suburbs are the great protagonists – silent witnesses to the lives of those who, with difficulty, try to integrate themselves into this harsh world with no apparent way out – this concept has already been staged in Sunspots, in which, however, there is a more experimental approach.

We are in a big park on a sunny day. A mother (Kathrin Resetarits) plays ball with her little girl. Nearby, her roommate (Nina Proll) watches the scene tenderly. All in over-exposed black and white. Then, suddenly, the ball is thrown into the air and, looking up at the sky, the colours return warm, alive and pulsating. And yet, the everyday life of the two women – who both work in a neighbourhood bar – is not always all sunshine and rainbows.

And so the character played by Nina Proll immediately reminds us of Jasmin in Nordrand. This is due not only to the similar lifestyles of the two – both in search of a great love, both always meeting false “charming princes” who promise the world, but then prove to be of a completely different nature, both with a strong, very strong desire to go far away, to live a better life – but also, and above all, precisely to the description of the suburbs as a sort of non-place of transition between the centre of the cosmopolitan European capital and the uncontaminated nature. A place, this one, that seems to us, therefore, agoraphobic, sterile, insensitive to any dramatic event (such as, for example, the death of three young people following a car accident). A place that, however, looks almost like a sort of border, a temporary home between the old life and the future.

And it is precisely the concept of the border – often also staged in a broad sense, understood as the frontier between reality and imagination – that plays a further central role in Sunspots. Barbara Albert, for her part, has not been afraid to experiment, to look for new ways of creating innovative languages. Precisely according to the canons of the so-called Austrian New Wave, which was born several decades after the much better known French, British or Eastern European Nouvelle Vague and which witnessed the successful and interesting debuts of directors such as Jessica Hausner, Mirjam Unger, Virgil Widrich and Nikolaus Geyrhalter.

So let’s start with successful transitions from black and white to the warmer colours of the sky crossed by a solar eclipse, to the more sterile and colder colours of asphalt streets and the shabby café where the two girls work. Who or, it would be better to say, what will save the two if not hectic disco evenings spent dancing the Macarena or, above all, innocent “excursions” outside of reality in which the world of childhood gets the better of everything and makes everyone feel protected within its psychedelic, joyful and reassuringly hushed atmospheres? Yet, the black and white of everyday life is right there, ready to return and bring us back down to earth. Luckily, from time to time, there is always some bizarre “pirate” who will make us smile after a chance encounter in the underground. We just have to keep our eyes open and look around with the clear look of a child.

In Sunspots, the two young protagonists’ desire for change fully corresponds to the desire for new pursued by Barbara Albert herself. A desire for newness that inevitably leads to a consequent artistic and spiritual growth. In spite of a few unnecessary elements in the screenplay. Only in this way, then, is it possible to feel free. Only when one is not afraid to let one’s imagination fly. Similarly to what the little girl’s ball does, flying carefree into the sky on a sunny summer day.

Original title: Sonnenflecken
Directed by: Barbara Albert
Country/year: Austria / 1998
Running time: 25’
Genre: drama, experimental
Cast: Nina Proll, Kathrin Resetarits, Una Wipplinger, Victor Tremmel, Alexandere Tarzi, Werner Lansgesell, Kuno Leu, Emilie Zsoldos, Norbert Fassl
Screenplay: Barbara Albert
Cinematography: Christine A. Maier
Produced by: Filmakademie Wien

Info: the page of Sunspots on iMDb