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Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Ulrich Seidl’s bleak, but grimly fascinating feature follows a young Ukrainian female nurse who heads WEST in search of work and, similarly, a marginally employed young male Austrian heading EAST on dead-end service jobs. Their paths cross symbolically, but the real meeting point is in a shared sense of despair in the new Euro have-not culture. Shot in documentary style with a mostly non-pro cast, Seidl seems to shoot in an artless manner, with a fair amount of painfully unerotic explicit sex, but it doesn’t take long to notice the compositional touches, especially the white-on-white palette and his taste for still-life tableaux. The young nurse receives the more sympathetic treatment since she’s all but forced on her journey after months of half-wages, leaving her child with her mother. After a failed, and nearly comic, attempt at the phone/internet sex-trade, she winds up on the cleaning staff at a miserable government old-age home in Austria. But the film reaches its peak (if that’s the word for it) on the young man’s route, bringing coin-operated machines into a slowly emerging East that’s still weighed down by Soviet-Bloc style living conditions and economics. Here, in a large tenement complex of Roma (Gypsies), life has devolved into one of Dante’s hellish circles. There’s only one traditional story beat in the whole film, naturally it involves death, but the situation is plenty compelling without them.

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