Le Pays De France - Edgy Austrian director holds mirror up to 'ugly' Europe

Paris -
Edgy Austrian director holds mirror up to 'ugly' Europe
Edgy Austrian director holds mirror up to 'ugly' Europe

Edgy Austrian director holds mirror up to 'ugly' Europe

Austrian director Ulrich Seidl has shocked arthouse audiences for two decades with hard looks at society's seedy underbelly and said Friday Europeans must be willing to confront the continent's "ugly" side.

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Seidl premiered his latest dark, sexually explicit drama "Rimini" at the 72nd Berlin film festival as one of 18 contenders for the Golden Bear top prize.

The picture, which drew a positive reception, tells the story of Richie Bravo, a washed-up singer of Schlager -- schmaltzy love songs popular with pensioners in Germany and Austria.

Richie, resembling Las Vegas-era Elvis with his girth and addictions, makes his living performing for misty-eyed holidaymakers and bedding lonely women for money.

When his estranged daughter Tessa shows up during the winter slow season demanding two decades of child support he has failed to pay, Richie cooks up a scheme to blackmail a wealthy fan with a sex tape of his wife.

After Richie hands over the cash, Tessa thanks him, then promptly moves into his home with her Syrian boyfriend and a dozen of his friends, other Middle Eastern refugees who have recently arrived in Europe.

Meanwhile, Richie's father back in Austria is living in a home suffering from dementia, singing the songs of his own youth in the Nazi period.

The movie, like most of Seidl's pictures, features graphic warts-and-all sex scenes with a cast of non-professional actors and probes the exploitation that goes hand-in-hand with Europeans' search for recreation.

Seidl, 69, told AFP that he trusted audiences enough to give them the unvarnished truth.

"I'm not interested in cliches of beauty. I show people as they are and that means seeing bodies differently, not as the media likes to give them to us," he said.

- 'Determine our future' -

Seidl said this also applied the Italian resort town of Rimini where he spent summer holidays in the 1950s as a child which he opted to shoot in the fog and snow of winter.

"I like to interrogate what 'ugly' is. To me, it's the overfilled beaches and millions of sunbeds and umbrellas," he said.

Seidl said the fact that thousands of refugees wash up on the same beaches where hordes of Europeans seek pleasure every year was also an uncomfortable truth he wanted to explore.

"Refugees arriving in huge numbers is a reality of our world regardless of whether in France or Italy or another European country," he said.

"It is going to determine our future -- I wanted to show that no one is really dealing with it."

Seidl exploded onto the scene with deeply divisive features that penetrate the unflattering sides of European societies.

"Import/Export" from 2005 dealt with women from the former Soviet Union working in the West as prostitutes.

His "Paradise" trilogy of features about sex, power and the cultural obsession with women's bodies premiered at the Berlin, Cannes and Venice film festivals, marking a rare hat-trick for a contemporary director.

Seidl welcomed the decision by Berlin to stage an in-person festival just as Germany's coronavirus infections break daily records, saying it was time for Europe to return to cinemas.

"I would have withdrawn my film if it had gone online," he said.

The festival jury led by Indian-born American director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") will present its awards on Wednesday.