Still Life is by no means a ‘simple’ film. On the contrary, every little facet of the protagonists’ personalities is well rendered by Sebastian Meise’s camera in a never rhetorical or predictable way. The close-ups on their faces, the confessions, the chats in a car or on a station platform, but also the extreme gestures give each of them humanity.
In recent times, director Sebastian Meise attracted a lot of attention after his feature film Great Freedom – first presented at the Cannes Film Festival 2021 – made it onto the 2022 Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film. Looking back on his career, however, one cannot help but be reminded of his debut feature, Still Life, made in 2011 and which already revealed a remarkable talent for staging subtle human dramas.
In Still Life, then, we are told a difficult family story, along with a painful past, burning secrets and old guilt to atone for. Young Bernhard (played by Christoph Luser) discovers by chance that his father Gerhard (Fritz Hörtenhuber) meets some prostitutes, asking them to pretend to be his daughter Lydia (Daniela Golpashin). As soon as her mother and sister also learn about this (and also about the fact that the man, although he never abused his daughter, kept some of her childhood photographs hidden), the already precarious family balance is finally broken.
Paedophilia and family abuse have always been known to be particularly difficult issues, even though they are sadly topical. In his Still Life, therefore, Sebastian Meise has dealt with these themes with intelligence and delicacy, without ever judging, but finding in a crude realism the right solution to stage the story of the aforementioned family. Gerhard is a taciturn man who spends most of his days in his carpentry workshop. His wife is a quiet woman with whom he does not seem to interact much, while his children are now adults and each has gone his own way. The past, however, plays a key role in their present and, at the same time, gives rise to complex moral questions that are very difficult to deal with.
The director, for his part, has opted for a minimalist directorial approach, through which very little space is devoted to music, while shadows always seem to prevail over light, whether in the streets of the city or in a club at night, in the rooms of the house or, indeed, in the aforementioned carpentry workshop. Light would finally mean a kind of ‘liberation’. But when, then, will this longed-for liberation arrive? And, above all, how will the protagonists finally feel free?
Still Life is by no means a ‘simple’ film. On the contrary, every little facet of the protagonists’ personalities is well rendered by Sebastian Meise’s camera in a never rhetorical or predictable way. The close-ups on their faces, the confessions, the chats in a car or on a station platform, but also the extreme gestures give humanity to each of them and in a delicate and particularly clever way make us realise that the world has shades of grey. Even when a categorical punishment seems to all intents and purposes the right solution.
Original title: Stillleben
Directed by: Sebastian Meise
Country/year: Austria / 2011
Running time: 78’
Cast: Daniela Golpashin, Christoph Luser, Fritz Hörtenhuber, Roswitha Soukup, Anja Plaschg, David Hebenstreit
Screenplay: Sebastian Meise, Thomas Reider
Cinematography: Gerald Kerkletz
Produced by: FreibeuterFilm, Lotus Film