Director – Ulrich Siedl – 2022 – Austria, France, Germany – Cert. 18 tbc – 114m
A singer of romantic songs performs to elderly female fans (in more ways than one) in an off-season seaside town as his past catches up with him – from the BFI London Film Festival 2022 which runs from Wednesday, October 5th to Sunday, October 16th in cinemas and on BFI Player
An old man (Hans-Michael Rehberg, who died in 2016 and whose last lensed appearance on film this performance represents) is lost in a care home where he’s a patient. None of the doors will open. His son (Michael Thomas) arrives and takes him to the man’s wife’s funeral.
His son travels to the off-season, Italian seaside resort of Rimini for bookings as Richie Bravo (presumably his stage rather than his real name, although this is never clarified) at hotels to sing romantic songs to his admiring, elderly, female fan base. The dull, monolithic hotel buildings have exotic names like Soleil and 007 belying their inherent blandness.
In between those performances and traipsing around through heavy rain and snow, he engages in sexual congress in hotel rooms with a small number of his most devoted fans including the single Anna (Claudia Martini) and the married Emmi (Inge Maux).
In addition to his fans, another, far younger woman is stalking him. She turns out to be Tessa (Tessa Göttlicher), the 18-year old daughter he’s not seen for the last dozen years who is seeking financial reparation for the way her treated her and her mother. She is accompanied by her equally if not more intimidating boyfriend and his Muslim entourage who travel in a large mobile home.
Richie clearly loves performing both music on the stage and sex in the hotel room, and doesn’t seem too worried that he does both for money. Outside of these two worlds, however, these partners don’t exist for him. The off-season town is a less like a holiday resort and more like an endurance test and the scenes of him making his way down streets towards seafront buildings are just as powerful and searing as the singing to audiences or the physical sex.
With the financial pressure from his daughter mounting, Richie ups the ante by resorting to blackmail in scenes which prove more unsettling than anything that has gone before, especially when you think about them after the film has ended. In the short term, within the period covered by the film’s narrative, this action gets him out of a jam. Beyond that, though, he would need to keep up the blackmail or find alternative sources of revenue to maintain the newly established status quo, and this would have the potential to go very disastrously wrong.
As all this gives way to a small number of further scenes of Richie with his father, the former tries to impose his songs of romantic amore on the latter, who is obsessed with German militarism and sings songs from an earlier generation to match. What he would make of his son if he was aware of the more sordid details of Richie’s life is anyone’s guess. As it stands, Richie keeps this part of his life compartmentalised and sealed off from everything else.
Apart from the opening attendance at her funeral and the later verbal revelation to two women in a private hotel room of his unaware mother’s role in his first sexual experience, the subject of Richie’s late mother lurks unstated beneath the surface, and you wonder if he’s ever really got to grips with the bereavement process. Certainly, his own experience at starting a family hasn’t really worked out and, indeed, has come back to bite him in the form of Tessa, the estranged daughter with whom he claims to want to make up for lost time but seems instead to be paying off. His absent mother, meanwhile, hangs there in limbo like a presence pervading everything that goes on.
Siedl has never been one to shy away from the physically explicit and the emotionally traumatic, and this is as strong as anything he’s done previously. His dark character study makes tough demands on his cast who rise admirably to the challenge. Thomas in particular paints a searing portrait of an empty shell of a man going through the motions both onstage and in private rooms, his bleak inner world echoed by the off-season dereliction and appalling wintry weather. It’s a tour-de-force performance that will compel and appal in equal measure.
Trailer (warning: sexually explicit):
LFF 2022 Trailer: