A film, You bet your Life, which focuses entirely on the inner self of its protagonist and which, consequently, boasts a highly appropriate direction, with frequent use of shoulder-mounted cameras and frenetic editing to show us his anxieties.
Georg Friedrich is one of the most popular actors in Austria today. And if, on the one hand, it is common to see the actor playing mainly supporting roles (according to him, his favourite roles), when it happens to see him in a leading role, he is able to rule the entire feature film, changing mood with disarming naturalness. It is no coincidence, then, that in 2017 Friedrich won the Golden Bear for Best Actor at the Berlinale (for Thomas Arslan’s Bright Nights). Just as it is no coincidence that in You bet your Life (original title: Spiele Leben) – from 2005 – director Antonin Svoboda wrote the title role just thinking of him.
Yes, because Svoboda – as the far-sighted director and producer that he is (let’s not forget that he himself, together with Jessica Hausner, Barbara Albert and cameraman Martin Gschlacht, founded the successful production company Coop99), knows exactly what to bet on when it comes to impressing the audience and ensuring that a film will remain impressed in the minds of the spectators for a long, long time.
And so it was with this You bet your Life, in which we see an excellent Georg Friedrich in the role of Kurt, an incurable gambler who, constantly borrowing money, will inevitably end up gambling it all away in the casino or at the slot machines. The man, thus, will end up seeing the end of his relationship with his long-time girlfriend (Gerti Drassl) and will also lose himself completely after meeting Tanja (an equally versatile Birgit Minichmayr).
What will life hold in store for Kurt? In the uncertainty of the future – and in the midst of an existential crisis – the man, in making any decision, will rely solely on a die, each time deciding on six different options, depending on the number that comes up after rolling it.
And it is precisely on this constant uncertainty and the various possible twists and turns of the story that Antonin Svoboda plays in his You Bet Your Life. Following in the footsteps of the successful Sliding Doors, then, we are also given, at a certain point, the chance to see some possible twists in the case, without, however, being given any definitive answers, but remaining, at the same time, in total uncertainty. Just as happens to the protagonist.
A film, this one, which focuses entirely on the inner life of its main character and which, consequently, boasts a very appropriate direction, with frequent use of shoulder-mounted cameras and frenetic editing to show us his anxieties. And so, huge gambling tables, rolling dice until they stop, two-coloured roulette wheels alternating with frantic runs through the city in search of new ways to get money, together with moments of ‘calm’ spent smoking drugs immediately become the leitmotif of the entire film.
A new way of understanding cinema in Austria? Undoubtedly. Because, in fact, only a few years have passed since the birth of the Nouvelle Vague Viennoise – of which, in fact, Hausner, Albert and Gschlacht are part, along with Svoboda. And it is precisely in these years that one wants to tell stories about characters in the midst of an existential crisis, who often find themselves living almost on the margins of society.
New stories, then, for as many ways of moving the camera, which, within a chaotic and cosmopolitan city like Vienna – but also in much smaller towns – seems to us more restless than ever, but, at the same time, also more ‘intimate’, almost as if it were a sort of confidante of the characters depicted.
This was the case for young Rita (starring in Jessica Hausner’s Lovely Rita), as well as for Jasmin in Barbara Albert’s Northern Skirts. And so it is also for Kurt in You bet your Life: his constant feeling of confusion and aimlessness is beautifully portrayed as we see him wandering and looking around in the streets of Vienna, as well as we can perceive how he has been negatively affected by his father’s deep religiosity, to the point of giving himself over to a totally dissolute life.
And, on closer inspection, is Kurt not also perhaps one of the many victims of a bigoted, conservative and hypocritical society? Certain choices made by Antonin Svoboda would seem to leave no doubt about this. As does his overbearing desire for renewal and his angry, screaming, powerfully alive and pulsating cinema.
Original title: Spiele Leben
Directed by: Antonin Svoboda
Country/year: Austria, Switzerland / 2005
Running time: 94’
Cast: Georg Friedrich, Birgit Minichmayr, Gerti Drassl, Andreas Patton, Michael Rastl, Claudia Martini, Deniz Cooper, Christian Kohlhofer, Marvin Kren, Aline Götz, Gerda Drabek, Maya Unger, Alice Meiringer, Andreas Kastinger, Georg Hauke, Paul Hofer, Wolfgang Franzl, Annemarie Schleinzer, Roland Trnka, Bruno Wagner, Renate Wiesner
Screenplay: Martin Ambrosch, Antonin Svoboda
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: Coop99 Filmproduktion, Triluna Film AG