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by Dominik Hartl

grade: 6.5

Dealing with love – and, above all, understanding its true meaning – is not at all easy for Charlie and her friends. The same applies to eroticism, which they consider almost an antidote against boredom, but which, in fact, pervades the entire Beautiful Girl with a pulsating, implicit tension.

New life, new friends

Two boys and a girl run carefree and irreverent through the streets of the city, occasionally committing some misdeeds. What does a scene like this remind us of? Impossible not to think of Jules and Jim, François Truffaut’s 1963 masterpiece based on the novel of the same name by Henri-Pierrre Roché. That such a feature film, which over the years has become a true cult, has influenced numerous filmmakers around the world, is something easily imaginable. And this, then, is also what happened to young Austrian director Dominik Hartl, who, with his debut feature Beautiful Girl, made in 2015 and based on the novel of the same name by Gabi Kreselehner, gave life to a tender love triangle, to a teenage story that sees the cosmopolitan Vienna as its ideal location.

This, then, is the story of Charlotte, aka Charlie (played by Jana McKinnon), a 16-year-old girl who has just experienced the divorce of her parents and has recently moved to the city, together with her mother and little brother, to her grandmother’s house.

She soon has to adapt to a new school, where she soon meets the handsome, mysterious Sulzer (Marlon Boess) – with whom, after an initial, clumsy and totally furtive sexual relationship, a beautiful friendship is established – and the more introverted and reflective Carlo (Giacomo Pilotti), a boy of Italian origin who lives in her same building and who, already Sulzer’s best friend, attends her same class. Among various family and growing-up issues, the three will soon become inseparable. But how long will the established equilibrium last?

Beautiful Girl confirms a certain predilection of contemporary Austrian cinema for coming-of-age. And Dominik Hartl, for his part and despite little experience behind the camera, has proved himself to be as capable as those who, before him, have tried their hand at staging one of the most difficult ages ever. Interesting to observe, in this regard, how the inner restlessness of the young protagonists – here represented through frenetic camera movements, tracking shots to follow the protagonists as they run through the city and fast, dynamic editing – is contrasted with their constant search for a certain inner calm that they seem to finally achieve during their chats along the banks of the Danube – perhaps while observing small photographic compositions made by the shy Carlo – or in the intimacy of their rooms, complete with close-ups, details of personal objects and old music tapes with love songs.

Dealing with love – and, above all, understanding its true meaning – is not at all easy for Charlie and her friends. The same goes for eroticism, which they consider as an antidote to boredom, but which, in fact, pervades the entire Beautiful Girl with a pulsating, implicit tension. All this in a universe that, just as it happens with the world of adults (who, perhaps, deep down, have themselves still remained children, to the point of forgetting to protect their children by keeping them out of their own problems), seems to the three young people still completely incomprehensible.

And then, there’ s Italy. Italy considered almost as an enchanted place, almost as a kind of paradise that is geographically close but very, very difficult to reach. It is precisely from Italy that Carlo comes (and this in itself lends him an aura of fascination and mystery), and it is there that he will have to spend the summer at the home of some relatives, instead of staying in Vienna to enjoy the holidays with his friends.

It is not easy for Charlie to accept a new life, to discover love or, quite simply, to grow up. And, more generally, it is in itself very difficult to stage such delicate situations. And if, then, on the one hand, Beautiful Girl presents some problems from the point of view of the screenplay (above all as regards the ending, in fact, things happen too quickly, when they would have needed a much deeper psychological analysis), on the whole the film is enjoyable and makes up for its small imperfections with strongly poetic and at times even moving scenes (above all as regards the dialogues between the young protagonist and her grandmother). Precious moments, also part of the terrible and wonderful adolescence.

Original title: Beautiful Girl
Directed by: Dominik Hartl
Country/year: Austria / 2015
Running time: 92’
Genere: drama, coming-of-age
Cast: Jana McKinnon, Marlon Boess, Giacomo Pilotti, Christian Dungl, Johanna Egger, Marie Friesz, Bernhard Grimm, Pamina Grünsteidl, Maddalena Hirschal, Lilian Klebow, Nathalie Ann Köbli, Hary Prinz, Dany Sigel, Susi Stach, Fanny Stavjanik, Christian Tramitz, Moritz Uhl, Dominik Warta, Thomas Wolkerstorfer
Screenplay: Dominik Hartl, Claudia Kolland, Agnes Pluch
Cinematography: Xiaosu Han, Andreas Thalhammer
Produced by: Allegro Film

Info: the page of Beautiful Girl on iMDb; the page of Beautiful Girl on the website of the Austrian Film Commission