Viennale 2013 Review: OCTOBER NOVEMBER, An Intense Family Drama A Tad Overboiled

Götz Spielmann is a very intelligent director and he always seems to know exactly what he wants. In October November he creates an intense drama that sometimes gains emotional ground due to Spielmann's control and sometimes looses because it is just too controlled.

It is a family drama encircling the life of two sisters and their dying father. Spielmann puts a lot into the mix: One of the sisters, Sonja, played by Nora von Waldstätten, is an actress and has lost her connection to home. She returns from an isolated life in the big city when her father gets ill.

The second woman Verena, played by Ursula Strauss, has an affair with the doctor, who is played in a cheesy, almost embarrassing way by Sebastian Koch.

The problem here is that the doctor mainly serves for the plot and doesn't function as a character. The same is true for many scenes in October November. Everything is explained as if life would work with plot points.

Additionally wooden dialogue adds to a cold artificial feeling where emotions should have served the melodrama it is. The problem of the movie is either its coldness or the highly emotional story. They just do not fit together.

But there is more to the film than bad dialogue and its obvious picturesque qualities. Beyond the precise and clear images that are a trademark of Spielmann's oeuvre a deep reflection on dying, religion and family values takes shape. Dying is, as always, a concern for the remaining relatives and friends, not for the dying father himself.

In a poetic and brilliant montage the camera leaves the body of the father when he collapses for the first time. Spielmann finds images for an out-of-body experience one has never seen before. It's a moment like in Gaspar Noé`s Enter the Void, just without the drugs. At the same time he creates a strong bond to Sonja who is taking a bath while her father collapses. As a transition between the two locations he cuts to a dying fish, stranded on a stone.

This out-of-body experience is repeated during the film and also reflected on by the dying father himself. Like Spielmann, he observes his family and almost justifies the cold approach. When Spielmann shows the long process of dying he returns to his realistic roots. This is where the movie feels at home the most.

By putting so many different layers into the mix, Spielmann has created a compelling drama. Like Asghar Farhadi or Denis Villeneuve the director of October November is able to make his drama appear as a thriller. Therefore the weakness of the film is also its strength: Almost every scene is at the same time plot information and character development.

In the end October November is not as hard-edged and brilliant as Revanche, Spielmann's Oscar-nominated drama. It serves it purpose and is a very well-made film about serious issues. Sometimes its feels too soft, too well thought, but it is still a worthwhile picture by a great director.  

The film starts in Austrian cinemas on November 8th.
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