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by Edgar Honetschläger

grade: 6.5

If, while watching Omsch, on the one hand we are fascinated by such a tender and sincere story, on the other hand, we cannot help but notice how, as we approach the finale, the whole work seems somewhat self-referential.

Grandmother and grandson

The family is also sometimes made up of the people we choose. And, similarly, friendship between two people sees no distinction of gender or age. This is the case, for example, of the relationship that developed between the director and painter Edgar Honetschläger and Pauline Schürz, his 100-year-old neighbour. From their singular relationship, the documentary Omsch (“granny”), directed in 2013, premiered at the Diagonale 2014 and included, following the cancellation of the Diagonale 2020, in the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished, came to life.

With a series of footage shot over the years, we see, then, a tender relationship between a grandmother and a grandson who, despite not being, in fact, actually related, have chosen each other. And so, Edgar Honetschläger’s camera, now steady, now, necessarily, unsteady, shows us a tender and loving portrait of this lively lady who, nearing her hundredth birthday, has nevertheless maintained a brilliant mind and a witty sense of humour. Pauline is, then, an affectionate and loving woman, who still cares about her own appearance and who worries about her make-up when the camera is about to film her. A true Viennese, who feels lost away from her beloved city. And in Edgar she sees her greatest affection, despite his frequent travels around the world.

Thus, scenes shot inside the flats of the two protagonists alternate with archive footage during which the director’s voice-over reads the letters he and Pauline exchange during the periods when he is travelling.

A film, Omsch, in which considerations about life, death, old age and, last but not least, religion and politics play a leading role. And the thing in itself – together with the idea of staging this singular relationship – is also quite interesting. The main problem with this documentary, however, is another. If, on the one hand, we are fascinated by such a tender and sincere story, as well as by the director’s intimate reflections and deep optimism, on the other hand, we cannot help but notice that the film is, on the whole, excessively artificial.

In this respect, the music score that seems to be intended to instil suspense in the audience at the moment when Pauline does not open the door for Edgar is quite inappropriate. The same goes for the final scene, which stands as, quite possibly, the biggest misstep of the whole film. It is at this moment, then, that we see the director go to the entrance of a cemetery, light a candle, place it on the ground and remain for a few seconds in meditation. A moment, this one, which is highly artificial and self-referential (as, moreover, the director’s own expression suggests), with which the spectator cannot identify and which strongly contrasts with all that has been previously staged. What a pity. Because, in fact, this Omsch really could have been an interesting work. All it would have needed was to simply let itself be carried away by the facts. Thanks, then, almost only to the charismatic Pauline if this work by Edgar Honetschläger continues, nevertheless, to fascinate.

Original title: Omsch
Directed by: Edgar Honetschläger
Country/year: Austria / 2013
Running time: 82’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Edgar Honetschläger
Cinematography: Edgar Honetschläger, Daniel Hollerweger
Produced by: Edoko Institute

Info: the page of Omsch on iMDb; the page of Omsch on the website of Edgar Honetschläger; the page of Omsch on the website of the Diagonale