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MICHAEL BERGER – A HYSTERIA

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by Thomas Fürhapter

grade: 7

In Michael Berger – A Hysteria we see how places are constantly placed in the foreground and, in their almost unreal and sometimes disturbing tranquillity, provide the perfect setting for the events narrated in the meantime by the voice over. At the Viennale 2022, section Österreich real.

Looking for Michael Berger

Michael Berger. A name we will often hear about while watching the documentary Michael Berger – A Hysteria, directed by Thomas Fürhapter in 2010 and re-presented to the audience on the occasion of the Viennale 2022, as part of the retrospective Õsterreich real of the Filmarchiv Austria. Yes, because, in fact, the aforementioned Michael Berger has, over the years, become a true obsession for authorities all over the world. Let’s see why.

Guilty of making fraudulent investments to the detriment of the large-scale economy, Berger – a young man of thirty-one, born and bred in Austria (among other things, a former schoolmate of the director himself), but living in the United States for several years – never showed up for his trial. No one, for many years, was able to figure out where he was and where he had fled to. Had he perhaps chosen a remote island as his new home? Or had he perhaps returned to his native Austria, hiding in his grandparents’ house?

In his documentary Michael Berger – A Hysteria, Thomas Fürhapter retraces all the milestones of Berger’s recent vicissitudes. Starting, in fact, from his missed trial, a voice over tells us his story backwards, until we arrive again at more recent times. In the meantime, cold, static images of cities, villages and the headquarters of major financial institutions almost act as absolute protagonists on screen. Thus, an important parallelism between the adventures of a single man and the world economy, so seemingly untouchable as, in reality, much more fragile than one might think, is created.

Thomas Fürhapter’s (and Chris Weiß’s) camera remains constantly static. There is a total absence of music. Michael Berger. Michael Berger. Michael Berger. The voice-over repeats the protagonist’s name hundreds of times while telling us his story. Almost as if he were an obsession, a chimera. No one knows where he is, no one has ever seen him again. And in this mood of total hysteria, this interesting documentary by Fürhapter finds its ideal fulfilment, recalling, in terms of approach and mise-en-scene, the documentary Knittelfeld – A Town without a History, made by Gerhard Benedikt Friedl in 1997 and also presented at the Viennale 2022, within the same retrospective.

Just as in Friedl’s documentary, therefore, in Michael Berger – A Hysteria we see how places are constantly brought into the foreground and, in their almost unreal and sometimes disturbing tranquillity, act as the perfect setting for the events told in the meantime by the voice over. What made the protagonists of both documentaries act in such a criminal way? How did the environments in which they grew up and lived influence them? Once again, a sick society (and, in this specific case, a strong, very strong capitalism) is guilty of what we are and what we have become.

Original title: Michael Berger- Eine Hysterie
Directed by: Thomas Fürhapter
Country/year: Austria / 2010
Running time: 50’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Thomas Fürhapter
Cinematography: Chris Weiß
Produced by: Thomas Fürhapter

Info: the page of Michael Berger – A Hysteria on the website of the Viennale; the page of Michael Berger – A Hysteria on iMDb; the page of Michael Berger on the website of the sixpackfilm