"Teenage Wasteland": A Male Fantasy by a Young Woman Filmmaker By Claudia Lenssen

in 58th Locarno International Film Festival

by Claudia Lenssen

Over the last few years a group of young film directors such as Barbara Albert, Jessica Hausner, Kathrin Resetaris and others have created a new image of female points of view in Austrian cinema. Graduates of Vienna’s film academy, they differ in styles and genres, but all follow the traces of subtle psychology, complex narration and ironic touches of typical conditions of Austrian life.

This year’s Locarno Film Festival seemed to come up with a remarkable new talent, when Teresa Cavina, Vice Artistic-Director of the Festival, presented Keller — Teenage Wasteland, the first feature film of the 28-year-old filmmaker Eva Urthaler, in the competition. Pointing out the fact that Eva Urthaler, who has succeeded in realizing this long term project, is a totally self-taught auteur/director, Teresa Cavina introduced Urthaler’s teenage drama as the exceptional emerging of a new radical approach to puberty. It turned out to be one of the worst choices of this year’s unconvincing competition program.

Eva Urthaler, born in Vienna in 1977, started her career as a production assistant and graphic designer of storyboards. Since 2001 she “devoted all her spare time” to the script of Keller — Teenage Wasteland” (as the catalogue suggests her passionate investment of ‘both heart and soul’). Finally she convinced producers and funding committees in Austria, Germany and Italy. In 2002, she was rewarded by the Step-by-Step-Award, which is supposed to promote young European artists.

Keller, a 92-Minute colour film, shot in the slick low-key camera-style of typical eye-catching commercials, blows up its obsessive triangle-plot as an abstract metaphor for adolescence. Two isolated, sexually ambiguous 16-year-old boys, Sebastian and Paul (Ludwig Trepte and Sergej Moja), kidnap a thirty- year-old cashier from the supermarket, take her to their hidden place, keep her as a hostage. There begins a bizarre discourse on young men’s offensive, abusive “protection” against female sexual attractiveness, which covers up the homosexuality, the film is flirting with.

Paul suffers from the depressive atmosphere at his single mother’s middle-class home (poor acting by the well-known Austrian actress Birgit Doll and cliché mise-en-scène). Sebastian is the pretentious modern type of a neglected poor rich child, whose father buys and sells factories and leaves him a disused Gothic factory as a playground. (These scenes are obviously shot in the picturesque areas of East Germany.) In the beginning Paul meets the dominant Sebastian, whose rebellious attitude, stealing, hanging around and provoking fascinate him more and more. Sonja, the cashier, played by the Italian, German-speaking actress Elisabetta Rocchetti, is one of the crudest images of today’s auteur-film about menacing female sexuality. The delicate black-haired young woman, obviously alienated through her appearance and her accent as a Mediterranean ‘stranger’, functions as nothing better than a fetish, which makes the film a non-ironic, heavy male fantasy realized by a young woman filmmaker. Eva Urthaler presents the woman as a stereotyped figure without any background, a joker in the intriguing relationship between the boys, a piece of flesh available for all kinds of violence and nasty games. The triangle turns out to become an obsession between the ‘good’ one of the perpetrators, Paul, and the victim Sonja, which finally ends up with a sex-scene between them.

While in the opening scenes Sonja still resists Sebastian’s provocation and forces him to give back a stolen bottle of vodka, she is presented as half a dominating ersatz-mother, half a teasing pin-up that shows “what she’s got” in her pink frock. Spying on her, the boys witness her date with a ridiculously overacting, nasty, brutal pimp-like guy (whose pit bull terrier is going to play its own bizarre part.) Cheap soft porno voyeurism instead of a good script or a fascinating, seductive narration that would make one follow the boys on their way from “risk-taking to delinquency”, as the Locarno catalogue suggests.