Mansur Madavi enjoyed surprising us, confusing us and making us completely identify with his protagonist. Just Behind the Door is a feature film that is both simple and complex at the same time. A feature film that treasures what has been made in the past, but nevertheless finds its own way, proving to be a true gem of Austrian cinema. As part of the retrospective Keine Angst by the Filmarchiv Austria.
In the mind of an artist
Iranian director Mansur Madavi has always had a great talent for experimenting with new cinematic languages, each time giving us films that are completely out of the ordinary, rich in important references and of great appeal. Suffice it to think, just to give an example, of Magic Glass, his debut feature, in which the cinema of John Carpenter and Jacques Tati met to create something totally new. Another particularly interesting feature film in this regard is Just Behind the Door, made in 1984 and recently re-presented to the audience by the Filmarchiv Austria on the occasion of the retrospective Keine Angst.
In Just Behind the Door, then, we are told the bizarre story of the cartoonist Leo (played by Erhard Pauer). According to his own therapist, Leo has self-destructive inclinations and therefore spends his days indoors, almost ‘imprisoned’ in his flat. He draws. His two-dimensional drawings magically come to life from his pen. Then, from time to time, a brief chat with his Molly (Irene Kugler) seems to bring him back to reality. What if she, in reality, is also simply part of his dreams?
In Just Behind the Door, therefore, we hardly ever know where reality ends and the protagonist’s imagination begins. Outside his door, each time, a different scenario appears to us. While suddenly finding himself on the open sea, the next time our Leo will find himself lost in the middle of the desert. And again, opening the door of the apartment, one may even encounter an elderly gentleman quoting Shakespeare for no apparent reason.
The cinema of Luis Buñuel, but also Fellini’s wind that conveys such a strong feeling of death enrich our Leo’s dreams. Yet, in realising his precious Just Behind the Door, Madavi was also inspired by great painters of the past, such as Salvador Dali and René Magritte. At the same time, the red colour of the walls hints at something terrible. Or perhaps it just signifies a strong, strong longing for something that can probably never be achieved. The attentive eyes of a black cat seem to know more than anyone else. And then, last but not least, there is water. Water as a symbol of death, of rebirth, of liberation. Above water, Leo’s thoughts fly free, seemingly aimlessly.
Mansur Madavi enjoyed surprising us, confusing us and making us completely identify with his protagonist. Just Behind the Door is a feature film that is both simple and complex at the same time. A feature film that treasures what has been made in the past, but nevertheless finds its own way, proving to be a true jewel of Austrian cinema. An extremely rare jewel that certainly never got the attention it deserved. At least until a few years ago.
Original title: Dicht hinter der Tür
Directed by: Mansur Madavi
Country/year: Austria / 1984
Running time: 86’
Genre: surreal, grotesque
Cast: Erhard Pauer, Irene Kugler, Alfred Solm, Nicola Filippelli, Karl Schmid-Werter, Kurt Kosutic
Screenplay: Mansur Madavi
Cinematography: Mansur Madavi
Produced by: Nationaler Film, Walter Peters Film