The final scene of the short film Flora – with the protagonist running towards an unknown destination – shows even more parallels with Lovely Rita. Here, however, everything is taken to the extreme, everything is starker, more real. And the hope for a better future, evident at the end of the previous short film, now seems to be only a vague memory.
In her own world
This is not the first time that director Jessica Hausner has dealt with the delicate coming-of-age genre. If, in fact, she had already staged the sorrows of a young suburban girl in 1996 with the short film Flora, then in 2001 Lovely Rita – her debut feature film – further developed – and took to the extreme – the issues explored in her previous work. Lovely Rita – the first feature film produced by Coop99 (founded by the director herself together with Barbara Albert, Martin Gschlacht and Antonin Svoboda, the main exponents of the so-called Nouvelle Vague Viennoise) and thanks to which Hausner won numerous international awards – was to have been part of the selection of the Diagonale 2020in the section Zur Person, dedicated to Jessica Hausner herself, and, following the cancellation of the festival, became part of the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished.
Just like young Flora, then, our Rita (played by an extraordinary Barbara Osika) is a fifteen-year-old girl who constantly feels excluded, both at school and in her family. The reality in which she lives is too claustrophobic for her and she would love to try to be someone else or, in any case, to run far away. This uneasiness, then, persists throughout the entire feature film. In the background, a petit-bourgeois family and a society in which religion plays a central role in the education of young people.
Rita slowly unleashes her sexuality. And she does so first with a neighbour in poor health, who could be her younger brother, then with the bus driver with whom she goes to school every morning, who could even be her father. Each of his more careless behaviours belies his desire to escape from a cramped family environment, where nightly quarrels between her parents alternate with insignificant conversations.
In Lovely Rita, Jessica Hausner has opted for a minimal mise-en-scène, devoid of any music (the only music present is purely diegetic) and enriched by precise editing cuts and sudden zooms on the protagonist’s face every time something happens that somehow seems to have a certain relevance within her growth path. Rita herself is observed here with affection and empathy, but also with the necessary detachment. Her world – here incredibly taken to the extreme – could also be the world of thousands of other teenagers living in the suburbs.
Particularly noteworthy in this respect is the very setting chosen by the director: the suburbs of Vienna seem to further isolate the young Rita from the rest of the world. Just as happens in her home or in her school classroom. Interesting parallelism with adolescence itself, seen here more as a moment in itself than as a transitional phase or a normal stage of growth. As proof of this, the protagonist herself tends to hang out with people belonging to a different age group from her own and, by necessity, living in worlds that do not belong to her at all.
Are these not, then, continuous escape attempts? The final scene of the short film Flora – with the protagonist running towards an unknown destination – shows even more parallels with Lovely Rita. Here, however, everything is taken to the extreme, everything is starker, more real. And the hope for a better future, evident at the end of the previous short film, now seems to be only a vague memory.
Original title: Lovely Rita
Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Country/year: Austria / 2001
Running time: 79’
Genere: drama, coming-of-age
Cast: Barbara Osika, Christoph Bauer, Peter Fiala, Wolfgang Kostal, Karina Brandlmayer
Screenplay: Jessica Hausner
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: Coop99 Filmproduktion