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DIAGONALE 2022

Review: Märzengrund

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- Adrian Goiginger’s sophomore feature follows a young man swapping his impending farmland inheritance for the remote life of a hermit in the Tyrolean Alps

Review: Märzengrund
Jakob Mader in Märzengrund

Setting his new film Märzengrund amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Tyrolean Alps, to an extent that would make any tourism board proud, Adrian Goiginger’s second feature, following The Best of All Worlds [+see also:
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(2017), follows a hermit on his way into and out of seclusion. The film, which had its world premiere at the Diagonale Film Festival, is based on a play by Austrian playwright Felix Mitterer, who himself was inspired by a real-life person. The movie draws us in with the beauty of the Austrian Alps, but to a lesser extent with its dramaturgical style.

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It is 1967, and Elias Pircher (Jakob Mader) is leading a decent life. The son of a rich farmer in the Tyrolean Ziller Valley, he is meant to inherit the family property. At school, the young man is excelling. But Elias is also maladjusted, somehow. The pressure from his parents, strict conservative Tyrolean Catholics, to keep the family inheritance going strong, seems too much for the sensitive boy. Pressuring other farmers into selling their land evokes no pride for him, but only guilt.

“He is too soft,” his father complains one night to his wife. “He doesn’t do the work; he just wants to read his books.” These books, the parallel worlds into which Elias flees, are an initial indicator of things to come in Mitterer’s script. He will also start to slowly disconnect from the oversexed attitudes of his friends. A romance with the much older divorcee Moid (Verena Altenberger) is doomed from the start, as this prudish society won’t allow it. It’s a mistake, it seems, since Moid is the only person with whom Elias can connect emotionally. “I feel like a stranger in this world,” he heartbreakingly admits.

The lofty expectations of his parents, a doomed romance, lousy friends – what sounds like it could be any other teenage experience is set up to be a catalyst for why he would withdraw permanently from modern society. Even more problematic is the visual “kitsch factor”. Elias stares longingly at eagles soaring free in the skies and majestic stags. But instead of marvelling at mesmerising views and enjoying the lack of noise pollution, the viewer is drowned in a deafening soundtrack and several point-of-view shots of the landscape.

Elias ends up in the mountains by coincidence. In 1968, his father sends him to their alpine hut, Märzengrund, to recover after a long bout of depression that had seen him bedridden. But the punishment is a revelation to Elias. Much to the horror of his parents, he refuses to return to the valley. For the next 40 years, he lives in a makeshift hut near the summit. In 2008, Elias (now played by Johannes Krisch) has to return to civilisation, as he needs medical attention. There, he is confronted not only by his fear of society, but also by those he left behind.

It is telling that the movie employs a time jump of 40 years. Mitterer sees little narrative value in his actual seclusion, but ironically more in the human interactions he so despises. The real-life hermit, Simon Wildauer, was rumoured to have suffered from depression and schizophrenia. Both are only touched upon with the lightest of dramatic brushstrokes. Rather, as is typical of Mitterer, he spins a tale of conservative, Catholic morals.

One can understand that Elias might not be aware of a whole wider world out there in the 1960s, yet the sensibilities seem rather dated. Why do people forgo the human instinct to be gregarious animals? There may be little or no rationality to it. But Märzengrund tries too hard to find some, which leaves the movie with little more than tried-and-tested visual symbolism and by-the-numbers dialogue. Elias may be unable to “breathe in the valley”, but just as the air can wear thin at the summit, eventually, so too do the film and its story.

Märzengrund was produced by Austria’s Metafilm GmbH, WHee Film and it-media. It is distributed in Austria by Filmladen Filmverleih.

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