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by Nikolaus Leytner

grade: 6

Surreal, bizarre, but also tender and rather naïve, Drei Herren is certainly not a perfect feature film. And yet, as we get closer to the finale, each character turns out to be much more complex and multifaceted than it might initially seem.

Finally free?

A small town in Lower Austria, where nothing particularly remarkable ever happens. Three bizarre gentlemen find themselves there by pure chance and change the lives of the locals forever. Three mysterious pasts and a present that simply has to be lived. This is the story of Mr. Dölken (played by Karl Merkatz), Mr. Ivo (Karl Markovics) and Mr. Sichel (Ottfried Fischer), three patients of a psychiatric hospital who set off on a trip to the countryside, but who, following a sudden illness of their driver, find themselves wandering initially aimlessly in the aforementioned country village. They are thus the protagonists of the grotesque comedy Drei Herren, directed by Nikolaus Leytner in 1998 and now a true cult film in Austria.

Surreal, bizarre, but also tender and rather naïve, Drei Herren is certainly not a perfect feature film. An elementary direction, which gives the entire work almost a television character, and a screenplay that may initially seem overly simple and sometimes banal are the first elements that stand out during the screening. Yet, in spite of everything, as we approach the finale, each character turns out to be much deeper, much more complex and multifaceted than it might initially have seemed. And so, a welcome lyricism and a certain tenderness almost become the absolute protagonists.

Mr. Dölken has suffered from insomnia for years and in order to deal with his problem he has become a kind of sleep researcher himself. Mr Ivo barely speaks German, dreams of travelling all over Europe and always carries a jar with a goldfish in it. Many years ago his wife and children died in a car accident. Mr Sichel, finally, never speaks, is always hungry and little is known about his past. With their apparently carefree attitude, the three protagonists seem not to ask too many questions about themselves and their lives. Yet, little by little, each of them reveals themselves to be extremely vulnerable and in need of love. Each of them will finally find what they need to make peace with their past. Or maybe not?

Nikolaus Leytner loves his protagonists. This is immediately evident. It is up to them – and to the skill of the actors – to ensure that Drei Herren turns out to be a memorable film. Memorable for the simple fact that even after many years there are many who remember it with tenderness and gladly watch it again and again.

Pigs walk on two legs, goldfish swim free in a stream only to return to a cramped jar, an old lady is convinced that after many years her son has finally returned from the war, and a girl who has always worked as a prostitute falls madly in love. In Drei Herren everything is possible and often, however, it happens in a contrived, rather clumsy way. But it does not matter. A timeless story, a welcome lightness and grotesque characters appealed to the audience. Nikolaus Leytner has once again proved to be an extremely versatile director and thanks to his Drei Herren, he has definitely made a name for himself within the Austrian film scene.

Original title: Drei Herren
Directed by: Nikolaus Leytner
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 1998
Running time: 90’
Genre: comedy, grotesque
Cast: Karl Merkatz, Karl Markovics, Ottfried Fischer, Regina Fritsch, Erni Mangold, Franz Buchrieser, Peter Faerber, Dietmar Mössmer, Johannes Silberschneider, Uwe Schweiger, Jaromir Borek, Johann Lurf, Klaus Ofczarek, Hermann Scheidleder, Herbert Pendl, Werner Wultsch, Andreas Kunze, Martin Heesch
Screenplay: Nikolaus Leytner, Max Linder
Cinematography: Hans Selikovsky
Produced by: Allegro Film, Home Run Pictures

Info: the page of Drei Herren on iMDb; the page of Drei Herren on the website of the Austrian Film Commission