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THE STANDSTILL

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by Nikolaus Geyrhalter

grade: 8.5

The Standstill is an extremely precious and important documentary. Probably one of the most valuable works bearing witness to the recent pandemic. A highly accurate and meticulous aesthetic, as usual in Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s works, did the rest and gave us immortal images, images that fascinate us, but, at the same time, that hit us like a punch in the stomach. At the Viennale 2023.

When the world stood still

The release of a documentary by the renowned Nikolaus Geyrhalter always arouses great interest. Always able to tell the story of the world we live in through impressive and evocative images, the Viennese documentary filmmaker has often found far from home the ideal locations on which to point his camera. This, however, was not the case with The Standstill, which premiered in Austria at the Viennale 2023. The Standstill, in fact, chronicles an extremely recent period in history that concerns practically all of us. A period in history when it was practically impossible to get away from one’s home, when numerous people died, and when the fear of diseases became stronger than ever. We are talking, precisely, about the period concerning the recent Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting Lockdowns.

For the occasion, then, Nikolaus Geyrhalter told about his hometown Vienna and how it changed during the pandemic. Perfectly symmetrical shots of empty streets, tramways traveling without passengers, and swimming pools that look as if they have long been abandoned almost remind us of a science fiction film. Yet, as we all know, Nikolaus Geyrhalter has always made extreme realism his workhorse. A strong sense of agoraphobia initially takes center stage. A recent past is for many people still too painful.

In The Standstill, therefore, Geyrhalter paid attention to precisely every single aspect. Shot between March 2020 and December 2021, the documentary shows us now patients in hospitals, now television broadcasts in which the population was informed of the dramatic increase in contagions, now even interviews with those who experienced it all firsthand (and this is one of the aspects that differentiate this work from the author’s other works, in which, precisely, only rarely did the protagonists tell their stories to the camera). A group of students return to school after months of remote lessons. Some even get the impression that this is a return to school after summer break. And while a young patient delights in playing ping pong while being ironic about his situation, there is also a family of florists who, during the first lockdown, decided to give flowers to anyone who happens to pass by their business.

Moments of irony are not lacking during The Standstill. Yet, at the same time, coffins being burned inside a crematorium remind us of the dramatic nature of what happened. But, in fact, have we really understood the importance of such events? Images of protests, of people burning their masks, of those opposed to the new vaccines speak for themselves. Nikolaus Geyrhalter, for his part, was impartial in showing us the facts and simply let the viewer himself draw his own conclusions.

All this made The Standstill an extremely precious and important documentary. Probably one of the most valuable works bearing witness to the recent pandemic. An extremely meticulous and careful aesthetics, as usual in the works of the Viennese director, did the rest and gave us immortal images, images that fascinate us, but, at the same time, hit us like a punch in the stomach. Images that we will remember for a long, long time.

Original title: Stillstand
Directed by: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Country/year: Austria / 2023
Running time: 137’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Cinematography: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Produced by: Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion

Info: the page of The Standstill on the website of the Viennale; the page of The Standstill on the website of the Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion