2007 Running time: 135 Certificate: 18 Rating: 3

Synopsis

Self-proclaimed pessimist Ulrich Seidl paints a grim picture for Europe's restless migrants with the parallel stories of Olga, a Ukrainian nurse seeking a better life in Austria, and Paul, a hard-up young man heading in the opposite direction. Untrained actors and real-life dementia patients are brought together for a bleakly compelling and casually shocking drama.

Director

  • Ulrich Seidl

Cast

  • Ekateryna Rak

  • Paul Hofmann

  • Michael Thomas

Review

Fed up with your lot? Thinking of a change? Well guess what? There's always someone worse-off than you. That said, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

These are the conclusions drawn, underlined, and scratched onto our eyeballs by Austrian arch provocateur Seidl in this thoughtfully executed dissection of life's never-ending indignities.

Newcomer Ekateryna Rak is Olga, a nurse and single mum forced to make ends meet in her dreary Ukrainian hometown by moonlighting as an online sex performer.

So when a friend invites her to Vienna, she reluctantly leaves her baby behind for a shot at prosperity. But her first job as an au pair for a well-to-do family proves to be a far cry from The Sound of Music.

Austrian life is no easier for local roughneck Paul (Rak's fellow first-timer Paul Hoffman). Harshly or fairly, he's just been dumped by his girlfriend, sacked from his post as a security guard, and is up to his thick skull in debt.

As Olga begins her new job as a cleaner on a geriatric ward, Paul takes a road trip East with his stepfather Michael (Michael Thomas). Their job is to deliver slot machines, but Paul soon learns that sleazy Michael is more interested in amusements of a carnal nature.

Seidl makes life as uncomfortable for his audience as his characters, displaying a fascination with humiliation and degradation that borders on the pornographic. In several instances, it actually is pornographic.

Equally, some scenes involving the unfortunate old souls in Olga's hospital are extremely touching. Others, whether intended to be ironic or not, are simply unseemly.

Do we really need to see genuinely confused old folk having their diapers changed and being made to wear funny hats and make-up?

Veracity and mordant humour are all well and good, but Seidl treads a very fine line between making jokes about being sick and making sick jokes.

The title alludes to the fact that rich or poor, young or old, powerful or powerless, we're all just human freight heading towards the same final destination, and how we get there is up to us.

Now pass the Prozac.

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