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by Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann

grade: 7.5

Honest, sincere, at times even rather ironic and not hesitating to mock – always remaining politically correct, of course – the powers-that-be, Davos, by Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann, makes contemplative silences and a total absence of the two directors in front of the camera the ideal approach.

In a small town in the Swiss Alps…

In the Swiss Alps, there is a small town of about 11,000 inhabitants. It was in this town that Thomas Mann set his novel The Magic Mountain. In this town, the WEF, the World Economic Forum, takes place every year. In this town, directors Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann decided to make their newest documentary. We are talking about Davos, which takes its title precisely from the name of the town and which had its Austrian premiere at the Viennale 2020.

Davos is a small town like many others. During the year, life runs quietly. Yet, for four consecutive days, things change: during the WEF days, the town is full of visitors, political dignitaries and journalists. It almost seems to change completely. And the filmmakers, for their part, what do they do?

With an approach that is close to what they are telling, but also, in certain circumstances, sufficiently detached, they observe the reality around them, focusing not only on the hectic days in which the Forum usually takes place, but also – and above all – on normal everyday life, where the true essence of the city and the people who live there comes marvellously to the fore. A counterpoint, this one, which makes the strong contrast shown to us its warhorse and points the finger directly at the capitalist and – at times – even hypocritical and rather ridiculous world of some people in power.

A journalist, just before a live television broadcast, asks to be put on a slightly higher platform in order to be able to reach the height of the person she is about to interview. An important speaker at the WEF literally turns a deaf ear when asked to explain some data, which he totally ignores. Then, with a skilful alternating montage, we move away from the convention centre and finally enter the homes of the Davos inhabitants: while a couple of farmers are giving birth to a calf, trying, in vain, to save its life, a couple of hunters are entertaining themselves while waiting for some prey to present itself. And while a group of fishermen retire after an unproductive day, inside an integration centre, some volunteers rehearse a show with some young people from all over the world. This is the normal everyday life in Davos. And the same, at the end of the Forum, is immediately restored as the various guests and visitors are about to leave the town and as the signs placed for the occasion above the doors of certain businesses are dismantled.

Perfectly in line with Daniel Hoesl’s poetics and themes – the same ones present in Soldier Jane (2013) and in the more recent WiNWiN (2016) – what is staged here is, fundamentally, the strong contrast between capitalism and a life in which old, simple habits still play the main role. And again, the power of money over people, the power that drives people crazy, that forgets every single human being. And if in Soldier Jane the image of a bundle of burning banknotes is probably the most meaningful image of the whole film, in Davos, very symbolic and pessimistic is the scene in which we see a calf born dead, despite the efforts of vets and farmers.

This most recent documentary by Daniel Hoesl and Julia Niemann is honest, sincere, at times even rather ironic, and does not hesitate to mock – while remaining politically correct, of course – the so-called powerful. And the spectator, immediately, is completely absorbed into this world, so singular and so, at a certain time of year, incredibly contradictory. A symbol of a world that is (not too) slowly losing its authenticity, choosing to be guided exclusively by the almighty dollar.

Original title: Davos
Directed by: Daniel Hoesl, Julia Niemann
Country/year: Austria / 2020
Running time: 100’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Daniel Hoesl, Julia Niemann
Cinematography: Andi Widmer
Produced by: European Film Conspiracy Association

Info: the page of Davos on the website of the Viennale; the page of Davos on the website of the Austrian Film Commission