Saturday, 5 October 2013

A review: "Keller - Teenage Wasteland" [2005 Austria]

Writer-director Eva Urthaler makes an assured début with her erotic sociological thriller "Keller - Teenage Wasteland" [Eng. Title: Out of Hand]. Surprisingly, this is her only film to date, and unless it is due to a change in her profession, it's fair to say that there are far worse directors plying their craft than what her work represents.

Set in Vienna, we see two bored school boys strike up an unlikely friendship - Paul (Ludwig Trepte) is from a poor background, living with an ill single-parent mum, whereas Sebastian (Sergej Moya) comes from a wealthy family with an entrepreneurial dad. They don't seem to have any other friends. Most of their after-school time is spent with Sebastian trying to impress Paul - whether it is target-practising with a gun, stealing vodka from the local supermarket, or awkwardly trying to chat-up passing girls. It's plain to see in no time that Sebastian isn't really interested in girls, but very much so in the oblivious and shy Paul. All his efforts go towards earning Paul's affection.

When shop assistant Sonja (Elisabetta Rocchetti) catches Sebastian stealing and orders the two to leave, they follow her after work. For no apparent reason, they knock her unconscious in the basement laundry room of her apartment, and kidnap the unconscious woman in a shopping trolley by taking take her to a disused factory. Having performed the audacious act without perhaps even wanting to, and clueless as to what to do with her next, they tie her up in a chair and leave for the night.

The dynamics of the trio  - the captors and the captured, undergo a distinct change over the next few days through various interactions. Sonja, even while being held under stressful conditions against her will, starts playing mind games with Paul who's already infatuated with her but only too afraid to admit. But Sebastian can see it, and he'll be the one tortured in the heart from here on. The audience begin to sense that things are not heading towards a happy ending...

While there may be plenty to nitpick on the screenplay in terms of its believability, Ms. Urthaler nevertheless focuses resolutely on the themes she's concerned about. As it turns out, the film is not necessarily about unrequited gay love, even though it forms part of a broader, darker backdrop within a social and psychological context. It is not only about the boys, but also the young woman.

We know that assault and kidnapping are serious crimes with consequences, and the director doesn't delve into these acts to preach us what is good and evil, but instead explores the circumstances leading up to these random acts of motiveless violence. Sonja too realises instinctively that the only way she will survive is by creating a rift between the two boys, and manipulates them for her own ends, tellingly when her violent boyfriend (Georg Friedrich) comes to rescue her. It requires a bold director to take on a subject and imbue it with strong erotic overtones, more so for someone making a début, and Ms. Urthaler is sure bold. On the film's technical merits, there are scenes that are extremely well executed in terms of cinematography and set design that adds to the atmosphere. Georg Friedrich shows his promise in this early limited role as Sonja's boyfriend. Both the male leads, still in their teens when the film was made, also give a commendable performance. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | DVD Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Elisabetta Rocchetti and Ludwig Trepte
Elisabetta Rocchetti's character might as well not have a name - she's treated largely as a female object by both her boyfriend and captors until Paul (Ludwig Trepte) falls for her and starts treating her with a degree of respect. But it is not helped by the fact that she often comes across as a wanton vamp who secretly craves to be whipped - which for me was the most disturbing aspect of the film, because it sends the wrong signal to people with a slightly less endowed frontal lobe to start assuming that assaulting, kidnapping, and starving women won't bother them as much. In addition to the sex scene when both Rocchetti and Trepte are shown in the nude, Ms. Rocchetti intermittently appears in various stages of undress throughout the film.

Elisabetta Rocchetti and Ludwig Trepte nude in Keller - Teenage Wasteland aka Out of Hand


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