out of Five
Running time: 93
Austrian actor Karl Markovics's directorial debut about a young offender boasts dark humour, imaginative cinematography and a great performance from its non-professional lead, making it no surprise that it picked up the best film award at Directors' Fortnight in Cannes last year.
What’s it all about?
“Not your first corpse, is it?” guesses Roman's co-worker at Vienna's state mortuary. Handling and transporting dead bodies is the nineteen year old's first job and first taste of the real world after four years of juvenile detention. Keeping his film close to Roman, Markovics builds a convincing and heartfelt portrait of this damaged, lonely soul. Roman, whose parole is approaching, tries to come to terms with his past as he tracks down the mother who abandoned him, but also attempts to readjust to life outside and carve out a future for himself.
Roman is presented as a bruised and solitary creature, but there is a question mark hanging over his past, ensuring that the audience observe and sympathise with the protagonist (while those around Roman either ignore or condemn him) before filling in any details. Although at times the film can lean a little too heavily on metaphor, its title imaginatively finds its way into many a scene from air bubbles in the swimming pool, where Roman finds the nearest thing to solace underwater, to the rigid lifeless bodies he transports during the day, each of which serves as a stark reminder of his actions in the past.
The urban setting of Vienna's backwaters, from anonymous streets and underground stations to the corridors of the mortuary, is sketched with due care and attention. From the detail with which Markovics shows everyday life in the detention centre, it's evident that a lot of research went into the film (and indeed he even managed the near impossible feat of gaining access to an actual juvenile detention facility and its inhabitants). But it is Thomas Schubert's turn as Roman that is the stand out feature of the film; everything from his boyish face and vacant stare to his withdrawn body language is entirely convincing.
Austrian actor Karl Markovics makes an incredibly assured debut, and Markovics knows when silence counts, having coaxed a fantastic, nuanced performance out of his non-professional lead.