This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian) Deutsch (German)
by Dieter Berner
There really is a lot to be enjoyed in dealing with all the numerous ideas that the life of this brilliant artist has to offer us. All depends on knowing how to handle them well, in order to make a never predictable or didactic work that is able to portray one of Austria’s most important artistic personalities as passionately and faithfully as possible. And Dieter Berner has perfectly succeeded in this never easy and by no means banal task with his Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden.
The power of art
Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele. These are among the best known exponents of the artistic movement of the Viennese Secession. Undisputed geniuses, tormented souls, but, above all, important personalities who, with their works, created new ways of conceiving painting itself. And if among all of them Egon Schiele was most influenced by the Expressionist current, then his figure, despite his all too short life – he died at 28 – has often raised the interest of numerous film directors. After Herbert Vesely directed Egon Schiele – Excess and Punishment in 1981, Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden (original title: Egon Schiele – Tod und Mädchen), made in 2016 by Dieter Berner, has fascinated a great, great number of viewers.
There is a lot to do, then, in handling all the numerous ideas that the life of this brilliant artist has to offer us. It all depends on knowing how to handle them well, giving life to a never predictable or didactic work, but which, on the contrary, knows how to portray one of Austria’s most important artistic personalities as passionately and faithfully as possible. And Dieter Berner, for his part, has perfectly accomplished this difficult and never banal task. His Egon Schiele (played for the occasion by an extremely resembling Noah Saavedra) is a young man full of charm and passion. A young man who is very attached to his sister Gerti (Maresi Riegner), who often poses for him as a model. A young man who is by no means portrayed as a kind of flawless hero, but who, very well characterised in his humanity, has plenty of faults to atone for. And yet, at the same time, a young man who, despite everything, has maintained a necessary limpidity of gaze and who, more than anyone else, is able to catch and transfigure the true essence of people into two-dimensional figures.
At his side, (almost) always the inseparable Wally Neuzil (Valerie Pachner), his life and adventure partner and one of his most famous models, whom we have all come to know through the artist’s loving eyes.
And as the story goes on, the initial light-heartedness that characterised the young protagonist gives way to the responsibilities of adulthood: the First World War is just around the corner, the Austrian army is calling for its soldiers, there is no more time for songs, dances, parties of all kinds. There’ s no more time for love, for passion, for art. One officially enters adulthood. But does this really mean that one has to give up being oneself? Or, in the end, is it still our own passions that save us and keep us alive?
In Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden, Dieter Berner focuses on the salvific power of art. Just as when we see the young Egon, freshly awoken, writing in large letters on the wall of his room the sentence ‘The work of art is immortal’. Or as when the urgency, the need to complete a painting nevertheless makes an apparently ended love rise from its own ashes.
Yet the director, for his part, does not aim to “replicate” the style of the famous Austrian painter in the staging of this important film. He doesn’t aim to give it a visual power that closely reminds us of the artist’s works. On the contrary, a directorial approach that tends to be realistic and never over the top tells us not only the story of young Egon, but also a period of central importance for Austria. A period that witnesses the end of Franz Joseph’s empire, but which, at the same time, in an atmosphere of decadence, also witnesses an extraordinary intellectual and artistic vitality. Symbol of a nation that, in spite of everything, always manages to find new ways to rise, new directions to take and new challenges to overcome.
Original title: Egon Schiele – Tod und Mädchen
Directed by: Dieter Berner
Country/year: Austria, Luxembourg / 2016
Running time: 110’
Genre: biographical, biopic, drama
Cast: Noah Saavedra, Maresi Riegner, Valerie Pachner, Marie Jung, Elisabeth Umlauft, Larissa Breidbach, Thomas Schubert, Daniel Sträβer, Cornelius Obonya, André Jung, Nina Proll, Luc Feit, Fanny Berner, Wolfram Berger, Michael Kreihsl, Ulli Maier, Germain Wagner, Martin Muliar, Ilvy Grün, Lilo Grün, Hilde Berger, Clemens Aap Lindenberg, Josiane Pfeiffer, Steve Karier, Raoul Albonetti, Dieter Berner, Franz Novotny, Max Berner, Christoph Staar, Joseph Holzknecht, Max Thommes, Nickel Bösenberg, Al Ginter, Anne Pannrucker, Nepp Hurch, Nicolas Neuhold, Eric Gigout
Screenplay: Hilde Berger, Dieter Berner
Cinematography: Carsten Thiele
Produced by: Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH, Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion GmbH, Amour Fou Luxembourg