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by Thomas Marschall

grade: 7

With an extremely essential mise-en-scène, Thomas Marschall has perfectly succeeded in giving his Ordinary Creatures a surreal and highly alienating character, thanks to figures that are now inexplicably mute and so inexpressive as to seem almost unfriendly, up to scenes with a strong dreamlike atmosphere.

An aimless journey

A man. A woman. An old red Volvo and a seemingly aimless journey. Rather unusual things happen in Ordinary Creatures, a singular feature film by Thomas Marschall that was supposed to be part of the selection of the Diagonale 2020, but was included in the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished following the cancellation of the festival.

Martha (played by Anna Mendelssohn, also author, together with Thomas Marschall, of the screenplay) and Alex (Joep van der Geest) are a couple. And, like all couples, they have their problems. One day, during a car journey, they argue about their probable incompatibility and, absorbed in the discussion, run over a dog. The next day, back in the car, they embark on a journey whose destination is unknown, with the dog’s tag hanging from the rear-view mirror. Unsuspectingly, the animal’s owner follows them at a safe distance with his car. Where will this bizarre and somewhat strange journey lead them all?

Ordinary Creatures immediately looks like a rather singular film, in which numerous comic and grotesque situations are the absolute protagonists. Martha and Alex, for their part, represent the idea of life as a couple, between moments of tender complicity and quarrels, in which everything is deliberately taken to the extreme, with many hilarious situations showing Alex making strange noises on the phone with his mother and himself intent on popping pimples in the mirror or picking his nose.

Where are Martha and Alex going? That is never given to us to know. And their apparently aimless journey immediately takes on the meaning of an inner journey and, specifically, of a journey whose purpose is to get to know themselves both as individuals and as partners. Similarly, the car in which the protagonists travel represents their home, their world, within which external factors rarely peep in.

In this staging of a pretty universal concept, even the locations take on a precise meaning. Where are the two protagonists? In Austria, perhaps? Yet, we cannot say exactly. On closer inspection, the two characters find themselves almost in a kind of non-place, where next to large asphalt roads where one often encounters isolated fast food restaurants, there are also large expanses of greenery where they can stop from time to time for a break.

With an extremely essential mise-en-scène, then, Thomas Marschall has perfectly succeeded in giving his Ordinary Creatures a surreal and decidedly alienating character, thanks to figures who are now inexplicably mute and so inexpressive as to seem almost unfriendly (see, above all, the mechanic who helps Alex after the accident with the dog or the waitress of a bizarre restaurant where the couple stops for dinner), up to dreamlike scenes in which a woman starts shouting sentences in an incomprehensible language at Martha and Alex after they have unintentionally scratched the bodywork of her car.

And yet, although the two protagonists are, here, the focus of the story, on closer inspection the human being himself seems almost insignificant compared to the grandeur of nature. This is demonstrated by the large expanses of green, as well as the close-ups of insects and animals intent on feeding themselves with what the earth offers them.

A film undoubtedly studied down to the smallest detail, this Ordinary Creatures. And yet, this bizarre work by Thomas Marschall from time to time almost seems to go around in circles, seemingly aimlessly, just as happens to the two protagonists. An intentional effect? Sure. Because, in fact, the main intention of this feature film seems to be to confuse and shock the audience, while at the same time making them ask themselves numerous questions. Perhaps even, from time to time, getting a genuine laugh.

Original title: Ordinary Creatures
Directed by: Thomas Marschall
Country/year: Austria / 2020
Running time: 75’
Genre: comedy, grotesque, surreal
Cast: Anna Mendelssohn, Joep van der Geest, Lynne Rey, Anat Stainberg, Alois Frank, Robert Slivovsky, Angela Christlieb
Screenplay: Thomas Marschall, Anna Mendelssohn
Cinematography: Martin Putz
Produced by: Daniela Praher Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Ordinary Creatures on the website of the Diagonale; the page of Ordinary Creatures on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of Ordinary Creatures on iMDb