“Struggle” is the kind of film that leaves you craving a hot shower, a close shave and a long hug by someone you really love. The film is freezing, unpleasant and at times extremely boring. And it’s very, very good.
This feature debut of young Austrian director Ruth Mader (29) describes in a slow and uncompromising style a cold intertwining of divided worlds within today’s Europe. A Polish woman (Aleksandra Justa) and her eight year old daughter try desperately to survive as illegal immigrants accepting any odd job in the outskirts of Vienna. A divorced loveless Austrian real estate agent (Gottfried Breitfuß) tries to find satisfaction through elaborate (and expensive) sexual perversities.
The locations in Strugglen are mostly silent and filled with joyless activities: a hospital, a strawberry field and a factory. Empty buildings and depressing sex-clubs.
With the country’s internationally best known directors being Ulrich Seidl (Hundstage) and Michael Haneke (La Pianiste), Ruth Mader can now be added to the list of respectable Austrian filmmakers. They all describe a world filled with cold and disturbing loneliness leaving the search for hope and salvation to their stunned viewers.
As Ulrich Seidl, Mader has also made documentaries – Ready for What? (1997) and Endstation Obdachlos (1992) – before her feature film debut, and this background is obvious. Especially the first half of Struggle uses an observational style to show the hard, tedious and monotonous work of millions of people all over the world and thier every day struggle to obtain work and to keep it.
Some scenes in Struggle show real factory workers in their everyday toil. In the director’s statement Mader mentioned the authenticity in the description of their work. With these detailed and factual scenes Mader invites the audience to be bored and irritated. The style of Struggle is demanding and sometimes painful, but it rewards those who are sharing the emotions of the characters and the situations.
Struggle will frustrate many viewers and entertain extremely few. But it’s not a film who aims to entertain. It rather strives to give comprehensible faces and souls to some of the isolated and wretched the lives right beside the pleasant and love-filled ones.
Privileged people are getting increasingly apt at blocking out of their conscious minds all the marginal struggling existences that surrounds them and heartfelt reminders like Struggle are always important.
© FIPRESCI 2003