by Elke Groen
A documentary, The most beautiful Place on Earth, which, with an aesthetic that focuses mainly on the essential and which makes long moments of contemplation its trademark, points the finger directly at those who, devoid of any independent thinking, allow themselves to be led by the hand by “experts”, deciding to support one or the other party, depending on what is convenient for them. Just as a group of Orwellian quacking geese would do.
Once upon a time in Burgenland…
The Most Beautiful Place on Earth. The ideal place. That’s the title of the most recent work by the acclaimed documentary filmmaker Elke Groen, which was supposed to open the Diagonale 2020, later cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic. But what is or, anyway, what would be the most beautiful place in the world depicted here by Elke Groen?
Within the federal state of Burgenland there’s a small town called Pinkafeld. Just under six thousand people live in this small town. Everything seems to run quietly. And the director’s camera shows us the empty, silent streets – with only some diegetic chatter from some houses – as the sun is about to set.
Then, out of the blue, the scene changes. The village comes alive, many journalists and TV cameramen crowd the small square: the 2016 elections are approaching and all the inhabitants are ready to support Norbert Hofer, exponent of the extreme right-wing FPÖ party and a native of Pinkafeld. Everyone is supporting him. Even those who usually vote for the opposite coalition.
Little did the inhabitants know that, from then on, they would be called to the polls again and again. And The most beautiful Place on Earth shows us just that: the life of this small town from 2016 onwards, its inhabitants, their – often contradictory – ideas, normal everyday life, complete with sporadic demonstrations, and togetherness in the small village tavern.
A documentary, The most beautiful Place on Earth, which, thanks to an aesthetic that focuses mainly on the essential – perfectly in line with the author’s poetics – and which makes long moments of contemplation its trademark, points the finger directly at those who, devoid of any independent thinking, allow themselves to be led by the hand by “experts”, deciding to support one or the other party, depending on what is convenient for them. And depending on what people might think. Just as a big group of Orwellian quacking geese would do.
At the same time, the manager of the disco Hallelujah complains about the lack of customers. There are several reasons why they no longer visit the club. Yet, his Roma origins should no longer be a problem: due to the numerous refugees from all over the world, the enemy to fight has now become a different one. Similarly, a big Syrian family is said to be perfectly integrated in the town of Pinkafeld. It will not be easy for them to have to change their home, town and habits one day.
And all this is happening while outside the city borders chaos reigns, with politicians losing more and more support, new elections coming up, governments falling, coalitions changing, and leading figures forced to resign due to some newly discovered frauds.
Away from the chaotic Vienna, Elke Groen, in The most beautiful Place on Earth, took as an example not only Norbert Hofer’s hometown, but also – and above all – a small town, in order to draw a comprehensive portrait of provincial inhabitants and all the dynamics that have led to so many elections in recent years.
Critical, but never judgmental, close to what she is used to filming with her camera, but also distant enough for an objective observation of facts, Elke Groen is, to date, one of the most interesting authors in contemporary Austrian documentary cinema. And her The most beautiful Place on Earth, so incredibly topical, so universal, further confirms her talent as a present-day auteur. With also a welcome touch of irony and sarcasm.
It’s now night over the small town of Pinkafeld. The inhabitants are about to return to their homes and gather their animals in the yard. What will happen tomorrow, we do not yet know. But given certain tried and tested dynamics and trends, we can easily imagine it. A possible change would probably require great effort.
Original title: Der schönste Platz auf Erden
Directed by: Elke Groen
Country/year: Austria / 2020
Running time: 87’
Screenplay: Elke Groen
Cinematography: Elke Groen
Produced by: Golden Girls Filmproduktion, Groen.Film