With Flora, Jessica Hausner – similarly to what her colleague Barbara Albert did a couple of years later with Sunspots – began her journey into the world of the seventh art with an interesting coming-of-age, in which some basic features of what was to become her particular directorial approach could already be recognised.
Towards a new consciousness
From around the mid-1990s, the so-called Viennese New Wave was born in Austria, in which a lot of directors and actors who had just graduated from the academy decided to break all conventions of the past in favour of feature films and short films, which were generally produced on the cheap and told stories set in the extreme suburbs of the city. One of the most interesting titles produced in these years is undoubtedly Flora, the debut short film by director Jessica Hausner, still considered one of the most promising names in Austrian cinema.
Supported by a team of collaborators who had all, more or less, just completed the same studies (among them we find director and actress Karin Resetarits and cameraman Martin Gschlacht), Hausner – similarly to what her colleague Barbara Albert did a couple of years later with Sunspots – started her journey into the world of the seventh art with an interesting coming-of-age in which some basic features of what was to become her particular directorial approach could already be observed.
Here, then, is the story of young Flora (played by Claudia Penitz), a shy, melancholic and insecure girl in her late teens who, in order to make friends, has enrolled in a dance class. Nothing, however, not even her attempts to feel like a woman by wearing sexy lingerie, seems to help her get noticed by her peers, let alone by the charming Attila (John F. Kutil), her classmate, who seems to be interested in everyone but her. The only one who has noticed her, however, is the taciturn Jakob (Andreas Götz). Will he somehow manage to “save” her, making her regain her self-confidence and also take her away from a cold and claustrophobic family context?
The coming-of-age genre is, even today, particularly popular in Austria. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jessica Hausner, with her Flora, wanted to try her hand at it, later focusing the same issues in the feature film Lovely Rita (2001). And while, over the years, the director has had the opportunity to deal with all kinds of film genres (from horror with Hotel, religious satire with Lourdes, to costume drama with Amour Fou and dystopian sci-fi with Little Joe), with regard to her debut film, despite her lack of experience behind the camera, she seems quite at ease, with an incredibly mature directorial approach and a remarkable sensitivity in staging teenage dramas.
Staged almost exclusively with fixed shots and an almost omnipresent but also exclusively diegetic soundtrack, Flora successfully portrays the inner loneliness and sense of inadequacy experienced by the young protagonist on a long and difficult journey towards self-discovery and her place in the world. Dialogues are here reduced to the bone, the protagonist’s expressions too. And this works, especially if one thinks that the outward silence is, in reality, a mirror of an inner desire to scream and shout one’s presence to the world.
In order to stage this delicate contrast, Jessica Hausner has skilfully employed a second, important protagonist in the short film: the suburbs of Vienna. And so the greyness of its buildings and the sky are clearly contrasted with the colours of the young protagonist, who, in order to emphasise this contrast, often wears a red cap. A sign, this, that rather than being “dead inside” – as one might initially think – the young Flora is, in fact, more alive than ever. And she is only waiting to begin her journey towards a new and satisfying self-awareness. Even if it happens much later than it did for her peers (particularly emblematic, in this regard, is the scene in which the girl, during a party at an amusement park, waits for a very long train of young dancers to pass in front of her, before also joining them, resting her hands on the shoulders of the last in line).
No wonder, then, that Flora made producers and the press take notice of this new name in Austrian cinema. Jessica Hausner, for her part, proved to be perfectly at ease with her subsequent works as well, thanks also to the collaboration with her teammates, each of whom has at the same time started a personal and prolific journey into the world of the seventh art.
Original title: Flora
Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Country/year: Austria / 1995
Running time: 27’
Genere: drama, coming-of-age
Cast: Claudia Penitz, Andreas Götz, John F. Kutil, Hartha Hans, Alfred Farkas
Screenplay: Jessica Hausner
Cinematography: Robert Winkler
Produced by: Jessica Hausner, Martin Gschlacht