LAMORTE

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by Xaver Schwarzenberger

grade: 6.5

Despite unconvincing moments from a directorial point of view, in many respects Lamorte turned out to be quite courageous and forward-looking, a small gem in the filmography of Xaver Schwarzenberger and of his wife Ulrike.

The last farewell

The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand (2003), Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004), but also the excellent and heartbreaking Amour (2012), a co-production between Austria and France, thanks to which director Michael Haneke first won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, then the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (the second for Austria). What do all these films have in common? As many will have realised, each of these feature films deals with the controversial topic of euthanasia or, otherwise called, assisted dying. A topic, this one, which has recently given rise to much debate and which, of course, has also caught the attention of the film world. But if, at the beginning of the 2000s, for the first time this issue became more topical than ever also on the big screen, here it is that, already at the end of the 1990s – and, specifically, in 1996 – there was someone who first (or almost) wanted to have his say on the matter. We are talking about the prolific film director Xaver Schwarzenberger, who, after a film debut in 1983 with The Pacific Ocean, devoted himself almost exclusively to television, together with his wife, screenwriter Ulrike Schwarzenberger.

And it was precisely in 1996, in fact, that Schwarzenberger made his Lamorte, intended, precisely, for television distribution and starring a renowned cast, including, among others, Nicole Heesters, Gertraud Jesserer, Senta Berger, Christiane Hörbiger and Inge Konradi.

It all begins when Iris (Heesters), a brilliant career woman, decides to organise a reunion with her former classmates exactly thirty years after their high school graduation. Many of them have not seen one another since the day they finished their studies and during the reunion, which takes place inside a big hotel owned by one of them, old grudges and disagreements will inevitably surface. Things, however, will take an unexpected turn when Iris informs them that, as a terminally ill woman, she has decided to take her own life with barbiturates that very night. Her last wish is to die surrounded by her old friends, whom she considers her only true family.

In about an hour and a half, then, mostly in a single setting, we witness the unfolding of an anything but simple existential drama. And the numerous questions arising from this are tackled each time by the protagonists (and by Ulrike Schwarzenberger in the scriptwriting phase, of course) without ever lapsing into dangerous clichés or banality. The protagonists are introduced one by one during the film, and each of them is characterised just enough to touch the audience. Likewise, the supporting characters – and, specifically, that of the landlady’s maid – are conceived to act almost as ‘spiritual guides’ to the main characters. The same does not apply, however, to the few men appearing during the film: in addition to a mysterious and enigmatic ‘Charon’, both the husband and the son of the landlady are, in fact, constantly marginalised, as they never really interact with the protagonists and, above all – despite sporadic episodes – never influence the events.

And it is, perhaps, precisely the characterisation of these figures – together with directorial choices that, as we approach the finale, are at times excessive and contrived – that is most disappointing in Lamorte. The idea of giving life, for example, to the character of Charon – who, as we can imagine, is strongly symbolic – on the one hand turned out to be successful, while on the other hand it inevitably gave rise to solutions that clearly refer to the paranormal and that lead to certain directorial choices, i.e. soft lighting turned to blue and windows that are opened in order to allow souls to ‘cross the threshold’. What a pity. Because, in fact, this Lamorte turned out to be in many respects quite courageous and forward-looking, a small gem in the filmography of Xaver Schwarzenberger and his wife Ulrike.

Original title: Lamorte
Directed by: Xaver Schwarzenberger
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 1996
Running time: 90’
Genre: drama, ensemble movie
Cast: Nicole Heesters, Jonathan Kinsler, Gertraud Jesserer, Inge Konradi, Dolores Schmidinger, Bibiane Zeller, Friedrich von Thun, Christiane Hörbiger, Else Ludwig, Elfriede Irrall, Ulli Philipp, Senta Berger, Paola Loew, Hertha Schell, Lotte Ledl, Max von Thun
Screenplay: Ulrike Schwarzenberger
Cinematography: Xaver Schwarzenberger
Produced by: Bayerischer Rundfunk, TeamFilm Produktion, Telepool, ORF

Info: the page of Lamorte on iMDb