by Lisa Weber
During the making of Running on Empty, for more than three years young filmmaker Lisa Weber closely followed the story of Claudia, who became a mother when she was only fifteen. This project, co-produced by Ulrich Seidl, strongly recalls the cinema of Richard LInklater.
Observing normal everyday life. What could be simpler? And yet, it can sometimes be much more difficult than one thinks. Especially if one has to make a film. Yet, as we know, if there is one film genre in which Austria is particularly strong, it is, in addition to experimental cinema, precisely documentary film. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is Running on Empty (original title: Jetzt oder morgen), the second film by young Lisa Weber, co-produced by Ulrich Seidl, which took about three years to be made and which, upon completion, premiered at the Berlinale 2020 in the section Panorama Dokumente.
For more than three years, then, the young Viennese director has been closely following the life of Claudia, who became a mother when she was only fifteen years old and who lives in the outskirts of Vienna with her mother, her brother, her son Daniel and her boyfriend. Everything starts on Daniel’s fourth birthday. In the small flat where Claudia lives, there is a quiet and cosy atmosphere, despite many difficulties. The young woman usually spends a lot of time sleeping or lying on the sofa while playing with her mobile phone. Job applications are, for her, purely an exercise, since she has not yet had the opportunity to finish her studies. A lot of time available and no social life, then. But, on the other hand, it is also true that the girl still has her whole life ahead of her.
During the filming period of Running on Empty, Lisa Weber became literally part of the family, closely following their vicissitudes, moments of leisure and even their sleeping hours. This project, whose particular approach is very reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s cinema, thus appears as something unique and extraordinary within Austrian cinema. And who but Ulrich Seidl could have had the courage and foresight to produce it? His nephew, the director Severin Fiala, also took part in writing the script and, together with a small but well-assorted crew, Claudia’s story slowly came to life on the screen. Lisa Weber’s directorial approach finally did the rest.
It is close-ups, warm pastel-coloured atmospheres, moments of great despair together with moments of moving tenderness that recur again and again in Running on Empty. The camera, with a Zavattini approach, never moves away from the young protagonist, except for the moment when Daniel goes to celebrate his fifth birthday at his paternal grandparents’ house. Similarly, the house where the protagonists live – only left for a short time – is here handled like a real character. It is up to it to keep all the family’s secrets. To it the task of acting as a refuge to protect oneself from the outside world, when one is still too young to have the strength to face life. And, inside, the huge sofa on which the whole family is used to spend several hours of the day, is seen almost as a sort of desert island in the middle of the ocean, where one is completely isolated from the world, but, at the same time, one feels safe next to loved ones.
There is no lack of strong moving moments in Running on Empty. Especially when we see the young Claudia suffering because she was far from her family on her birthday. Just as there is no lack of happy moments, thanks also and above all to the comic verve of the protagonist’s brother. And so, inside a small flat on the outskirts of Vienna, the miracle of life takes place in front of Lisa Weber’s camera. Cinema becomes reality, reality becomes cinema, in this intimate and sincere Running on Empty. Should difficult times come, then, one can always find time to take a ride on a little train on the playground or to sing Whitney Huston’s When You Believe. The important thing is to always have one”s family close by.
Original title: Jetzt oder morgen
Directed by: Lisa Weber
Country/year: Austria / 2020
Running time: 89’
Screenplay: Lisa Weber, Roland Stöttinger
Cinematography: Carolina Steinbrecher
Produced by: Takacs Filmproduktion, Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH