If Tempo – Oscar-winning director Stefan Ruzowitzky’s first feature film – on the one hand treads the coming-of-age path already dealt with over and over again in Austria, on the other hand, shows a closer look than ever before at what is being realised at the same time in the rest of the world, resulting in a product with an international flavour with many typical features of 1990s mainstream cinema.
Vienna on two wheels
Oscar-winning director Stefan Ruzowitzky, as is well known, has always had an open eye for innovation and, for better or worse, has always managed to create feature films with their own, marked personality. Even when he still had little experience behind the camera. In this regard, Tempo (1996), his first feature film for the cinema (after a debut on television with Montevideo, in 1994), if, on the one hand, follows the coming-of-age path already dealt with over and over again in Austria, on the other hand, shows a particularly attentive gaze at what was being made at the same time in the rest of the world, making for a film with an international flavour with many typical features of 1990s mainstream cinema and which, at the same time, also manages to stage some considerations about Austria in those days and the turn the national political situation was taking.
Jojo (played by Xaver Hutter), then, is a still underage boy who, finally wanting to emancipate himself, runs away from home and starts working as a bicycle courier in Vienna, having found accommodation with Bastian (a young Simon Schwarz), his colleague and friend. One day his life takes an unexpected turn when, assigned by the mysterious Bernd (Dani Levy) to make a delivery, he arrives at Clarissa’s (Nicolette Krebitz) house, a girl of about eighteen with whom he immediately falls in love. But what, in fact, binds Bernd to Clarissa? Perhaps the two are having a love affair? The numerous letters the man sends to the girl each time would suggest just that. Yet things are much more complex than they may at first seem and young Jojo, in his complicated journey of growth, will learn to deal with situations that are bigger than him.
What immediately catches the eye in Tempo are the super frenetic rhythms made such by ad hoc editing and music score, while the camera follows Jojo as he rides his bicycle through the streets of Vienna. These rhythms will pervade the film for its whole running time and if, at times, they leave place for much quieter moments (such as the scenes concerning the protagonist’s chats with his roommate or even his encounters with the beautiful Clarissa), frequent within the mise-en-scène will be moments shot with a Super8 style aesthetic concerning mainly the thoughts of the protagonist himself, who frequently imagines he is talking about his life in a sort of talk show.
There is (almost) never time to catch one’ breath in this feature by Ruzowitzky. And although it has never been much talked about, its pronounced aesthetic has in turn influenced many films to come (just think of the much better known Run Lola run, directed by German director Tom Tykwer just two years later).
Then, of course, special attention deserves the focus on the city of Vienna, on the life of young people in the 1990s (many of whom, as we can see in the film, used to take part in raves inside the Gasometer) and, last but not least, on the political situation, which in those very years was beginning to see Jörg Haider’s FPÖ party gaining more and more support (the figures of the neo-Nazis who, one evening, attack poor Jojo, are particularly significant in this regard).
The focus on the world of adolescents, their problems and first approaches to love and sex is all there, as in any good coming-of-age film. Yet, this underrated Tempo is much more than this (and we know that Ruzowitzky, who during his long career has related to the most disparate film genres, does not limit himself to simple stories without any subtext). Rhythmic, colourful, ironic and tragicomic, this feature film is a perfect manifesto of a golden age for children’s cinema as the 1990s were – where the influences of the 1980s were still strongly evident – while at the same time creating something new and stylistically courageous. It’s just a pity that, after its theatrical release, not much was said about it. But, as we all know, Stefan Ruzowitzky has nonetheless managed, over time, to become appreciated both at home and abroad. And, as we know, fortune favours the brave.
Original title: Tempo
Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Country/year: Austria / 1996
Running time: 88’
Genre: coming-of-age, thriller, romance
Cast: Xaver Hutter, Anne Mertin, Simon Schwarz, Michou Friesz, Doris Schretzmayer, Dani Levy, Michaela Blauensteiner, Nicolette Krebitz, Evelyn Thonet, Klaus Ofczarek, Hjalmar Este, Mitzi Bodendorfer, Leopold Altenburg, Herbert Knötzl, Gerald Votava, Clemens Haipl, Hermann Schmid, Krista Stadler, Vicki Berlin
Screenplay: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Cinematography: Andreas Berger
Produced by: Dor Film