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by Reiner Riedler

grade: 7

In Die guten Jahre we see how a constant search for peace and serenity after difficult times almost acts as a co-star together with a special, tender mother-son relationship. At the Diagonale 2024.

Back home again

Regaining one’s childhood after a difficult period and in unfavourable circumstances. How can one make the best of a totally unexpected situation? Photographer Michael Appelt lived in Vienna for many years, but after his mother Christine was diagnosed with an early stage of dementia, he had to return to his native home in order to care for the elderly lady. This new challenge of his was faithfully documented by director Reiner Riedler in Die guten Jahre, which had its world premiere as part of the Diagonale 2024 programme.

Die guten Jahre, therefore, is a tender and sincere documentary in which, alongside a placid and contemplative pace, painful traumas and wounds from the past are observed and analysed closely, in order to finally be able to find one’s own balance. And perhaps, life within a small village, with its decidedly less frenetic rhythms than within a big city, can help a lot in this respect.

Michael is a well-established photographer, although his mother Christine would never have initially thought that he could be successful photographing people (as she also tells her friends). Colourful pictures of happy times and people who, in one way or another, have played a particularly important role in the lives of the two protagonists are stored in the basement and are carefully observed by Michael from time to time. Perhaps organising a new exhibition could be an interesting divertissement, as well as an important opportunity to develop new projects.

Michael and Christine have a very close relationship. Christine immediately strikes the viewer with her vitality and wit, even though from time to time she already shows the first signs of dementia. For her son Michael, it is important that she exercises daily, but she seems very sceptical about this. At the same time, in Die guten Jahre we are shown old family films from time to time, in which we can see the entire Appelt family on holiday, with Michael and his sister still children and Christine happy together with her husband.

Reiner Riedler’s camera has often simply observed such scenes of everyday life in silence, allowing the images and the protagonists to speak for themselves. In doing so, it has also given us moments of pure poetry, such as when we see Michael and his mother at the lake on a hot summer afternoon. ‘It’s nice to relax in the evening in the garden. In Vienna, in a flat without a balcony, this is not possible’. And in Die guten Jahre we see, in fact, how this constant search for peace and serenity after difficult times almost co-stars with a special, tender mother-son relationship. Strolling around the house in the evening, one can also peek into the neighbours’ gardens, to see if there is anything special going on. Another day has come to an end. Tomorrow will bring a new adventure.

Original title: Die guten Jahre
Directed by: Reiner Riedler
Country/year: Austria / 2024
Running time: 94’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Katja Schröckenstein, Reiner Riedler
Cinematography: Reiner Riedler
Produced by: Reiner Riedler Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Die guten Jahre on the website of the Diagonale