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by Jessica Hausner

grade: 8

Hotel sees its greatest strength in a direction made up of static and symmetrical frame compositions, with colours turning mainly to green or red. A power of images achieved thanks to the contribution of the cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, a long-time collaborator of Hausner and co-founder of the production company Coop99.

In a remote forest…

The image of a woman in a red suit about to enter a dark corridor. This, perhaps, is the most representative frame of Hotel, made by Jessica Hausner in 2004 and which has further contributed to making the director famous abroad. To the point of making her one of the most relevant names in contemporary Austrian cinema. The Diagonale 2020 would have dedicated the Zur Person section to her and, following the cancellation of the festival, some of her films were included in the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished.

With Hotel, Jessica Hausner helped the national film industry take a further turn. And if a few years earlier both she and her colleagues of the Nouvelle Vague Viennoise (including Barbara Albert, cameraman Martin Gschlacht and Antonin Svoboda) had mainly devoted themselves to stories bordering on realism (think, for example, of films like Lovely Rita, Hausner’s debut feature or even Barbara Albert’s Northern Skirts), in a new way of observing the everyday and the loneliness of human beings that goes hand in hand with the pressing urbanisation, then Hotel sees a further turning point in Hausner’s cinema specifically and in Austria in general.

Because, in fact, horror films were a road that had never yet been sufficiently travelled here. At least, precisely, until this fateful 2004. And Jessica Hausner, in her Hotel, played mostly with suggestions and atmospheres in staging the story of young Irene (played by Franziska Weisz), a girl who is hired as receptionist at an isolated hotel in a forest. It is within this hotel, then, that from the very beginning there is a strange atmosphere, with mysterious disappearances of personal belongings, seemingly endless corridors and, last but not least, the surrounding forest and the legend of the Witch of the Forest, due to which, in the past, some people would have mysteriously disappeared. Is this, then, also the case of Eve, the girl who worked at the reception desk before Irene and of whom no trace has been found inexplicably?

Hotel, then, sees its greatest strength in a direction made up of static and symmetrical frame compositions, with colours that turn mainly to green (since Alfred Hitchcock’s time, the colour that in films indicates death) or red (like the protagonist’s clothes, often the only touch of colour in a monochrome environment). A power of images obtained thanks to the contribution of the cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, long-time collaborator of Hausner, as well as co-founder (together with Hausner, Albert and Svoboda) of the production company Coop99.

Oneiric and everyday meet continuously, in Hotel. As well as stairs, corridors, isolated caves, enormous swimming pools that represent, perhaps, the only true moment of freedom experienced by the protagonist. At the same time, the typical themes of Hausner’s cinema, which see loneliness, incommunicability and also – and above all – religion and its almost overwhelming presence in the foreground, are always present. Yet the audience is given nothing to see up close. What happens in the woods can only be guessed at. All this in a mise-en-scene that draws heavily on the canons of Expressionism and which, in turn, creates new languages, new ways of understanding the seventh art and horror films in Austria. So much so that it has also influenced many other directors over the years. And the film Goodnight Mommy, directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala exactly ten years later, should speak for itself in this respect.

Original title: Hotel
Directed by: Jessica Hausner
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2004
Running time: 74’
Genre: horror
Cast: Franziska Weisz, Birgit Minichmayr, Marlene Streeruwitz, Peter Strauss, Regina Fritsch, Rosa Waissnix, Alfred Worel, Christopher Schärf, Alexander Lugonja, Tommi Saric, Marita Ringhofer, Martina Pöltl
Screenplay: Jessica Hausner
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: Coop99 Filmproduktion, Essential Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Hotel on iMDb; the page of Hotel on the website of the Diagonale