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by Stefan Ruzowitzky

grade: 7

Hinterland is an expressionist film. A film in which angular sets, cramped streets, sloping buildings, sinister shadows and oblique shots make us experience first-hand one of the most dramatic periods in history and convey anxiety.

An unusual Vienna

Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky is undoubtedly one of the most versatile filmmakers on the Austrian film scene. Because, in fact, the Vienna-based director has been able to relate to any film genre in the course of his long and prolific career, almost always managing to meet the expectations of audiences and critics alike. This was the case, for instance, with the horror films Anatomy (2000) and Anatomy 2 (2003), with the coming-of-age film Tempo (1996), as well as with the Holocaust drama The Counterfeiters (2007), thanks to which he won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008. But if in this case an extremely realistic and minimalist direction perfectly conveyed the meaning of war and all its brutalities, then in the case of the feature film Hinterland (2021), in order to stage another dramatic war situation, the director opted for a completely different approach.

In this case we are, in fact, in Vienna, in 1920. Detective Peter Perg (played by Murathan Muslu) finally returns home, together with a group of fellow soldiers, after seven years of imprisonment in Russia. Once he arrives in the city, however, he realises that things have totally changed: the Austro-Hungarian Empire no longer exists, everyone is living in extreme poverty, and the city itself seems highly alienating. A few days after his return, one of his comrades is mysteriously killed and, like him, several other soldiers are also brutally murdered. It will therefore be Peter’s task to cooperate with the police again in order to investigate the mysterious murders.

The city where the protagonist was born and grew up is no longer the same. The war has impoverished the population and driven many men mad. This strong sense of bewilderment is well rendered in Hinterland through a singular depiction of the city of Vienna made entirely in computer graphics. Stefan Ruzowitzky has opted for an undoubtedly courageous directorial approach, which if at first unconvincing, later proves to be an excellent solution in order to stage not only the feelings of the protagonist, but also a strong sense of anguish and, above all, madness. And immediately we are reminded of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920), where madness itself is the great protagonist.

And indeed, Hinterland is in all respects an expressionist film. A film in which angular sets, cramped streets, sloping buildings, sinister shadows and oblique shots make us experience one of Austria’s most dramatic moments at first hand, and convey anxiety. Likewise, the mutilated bodies of the victims give the whole thing an even more macabre aspect and immediately remind us of the director’s previous experience in the field of horror cinema.

Hinterland is therefore striking, especially from a purely aesthetic point of view, despite the fact that it is an overall well-written detective story, which becomes above all an important anti-war apologia. Stefan Ruzowitzky is not afraid of daring and experimenting with new film languages, while drawing inspiration from what has been made in the past. And, in fact, while in addition to Wiene’s masterpiece, Gustav Ucicky’s Café Elektric (1927) is also recalled in some way, the image of the protagonist carrying, desperate and discouraged, the body of one of his comrades in arms makes us immediately think of The Counterfeiters: here too we see a man together with a victim of war; here too we observe how the human being himself is powerless when confronted with events of such importance; here too we find a lonely man forced to wander aimlessly and who seems to have lost all hope of a better future.

Original title: Hinterland
Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Country/year: Austria, Luxembourg / 2021
Running time: 98’
Genre: drama, mistery, thriller
Cast: Murathan Muslu, Liv Lisa Fries, Max von der Groeben, Marc Limpach, Margarethe Tiesel, Maximillien Jadin, Timo Wagner, Aaron Friesz, Stipe Erceg, Trystan Pütter, Germain Wagner, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nilton Martins, Jeanne Werner, Konstantin Rommelfangen, Al Ginter, Mö Sbiri, Lukas Walcher
Screenplay: Robert Buchschwenter, Hanno Pinter, Stefan Ruzowitzky
Cinematography: Benedict Neuenfels
Produced by: Amour Fou Luxembourg, Film Fund Luxembourg, FreibeuterFilm

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