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by Antonin Svoboda

grade: 7

Inner conflicts, guilt, shame, fear opposed to the joy of liberation: in Persona non grata by Antonin Svoboda there is all this and much more.

“It has always been like this”

The Latin expression that gives the title to Antonin Svoboda’s work is the perfect synthesis of this story portraying an extraordinary woman, determined to fight for her own liberation from the ghosts from the past that afflict her, dormant but never completely vanished. An intense performance by Gerti Drassl, the Persona non grata of the title, heroine of the Austrian #metoo in a story inspired by the vicissitudes of Nicola Spieß, Tyrolean ski champion and victim of abuse that came to light thanks to her testimony and courage.

After the sudden death of her husband, Andrea Weingartner (Drassl, precisely), a former talent of the strong Austrian national ski team who retired at the age of 22, experiences a rather paradoxical situation when a neighbour, taking advantage of her weakness of the moment, tries to attack her instead of comforting her. It is the classic wake-up call, the one that transforms mourning into the breaking of a precarious equilibrium, releasing the Pandora’s box that Persona non grata depicts.

Weingartner, in fact, was a victim of abuse when she was in the national team and, above all, a minor and, what is even more serious, she was aware of the conspiracy by the federation to cover up the episodes. The episodes, because it was not a single case, but systematic abuse endorsed by veteran skiers because ‘it has always been like this’. Andrea, given the Verband’s reluctance to talk about it, decided to make the story public, calling the newspaper Der Standard. Supporting her are her daughter Sara, a very good Maya Unger, and the journalist Thomas, a highly convincing Lukas Miko.

The above sentence, pronounced by Andrea’s mother, the excellent Krista Posch, highlights everything that the #metoo movement, born with the denunciations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, has triggered all over the world. She too is a former champion, she too has been abused and has always been silent on the matter, as if accepting abuse with omertà could actually be a solution without side effects.

The relationship between mother and daughter, which has always been troubled by the latter’s decision to abandon the career in which her ex-athlete parents had hoped for, is the sublimation of this; as is Oma Herta’s liberating cry when hearing Andrea’s words on a talk show constructed to avoid the ski federation being misrepresented. From then on, the testimonies of people who remained silent because of fear – or shame – begin to arrive copiously.

Persona non grata also represents the return behind the camera of Antonin Svoboda, member of coop99 Filmproduktion, almost ten years after Three Eggs in a Glass. A successful return, in my opinion, because the topicality and importance of the subject demand such sensitivity that it does not lead to an excessive use of finger pointing, turning the film into a Michael Moore-style documentary of denunciation. Svoboda’s screenplay puts the viewer before a fait accompli, leading him to empathise with Andrea and not question her story at all.

Focusing on the woman, or rather the women of three generations, in this family drama where truth and freedom win out against omertà and obedience to the system, is also a way of teaching and creating a sort of manual on how to deal with the difficulties that such an accusation inevitably entails. Inner conflicts, guilt, shame, fear opposed to the joy of liberation: in the 90 minutes of Persona non grata there is all this and much more.

Original title: Persona non grata
Directed by: Antonin Svoboda
Country/year: Austria / 2024
Running time: 90’
Genre: biographical, drama
Cast: Gerti Drassl, Maya Unger, Katja Lechthaler, Lukas Miko, Christa Posch, Peter Mitterutzner, Andreas Patton, Gabriela Hegedüs, Antonin Svoboda, Tanja Petrovsky, Helene Stupnicki, Christoph Grissemann
Screenplay: Antonin Svoboda
Cinematography: Mario Minichmayr
Produced by: coop99 Filmproduktion, Albolina Film

Info: the page of Persona non grata on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of Persona non grata on the website of the coop99 Filmproduktion; the page of Persona non grata on the website of the Österreichisches Filminstitut