Soldate Jeannette

Soldate Jeannette

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Crocodile," says the male voice. "Leopard," says the woman, while the man is putting a shoe on her foot, turning his sales pitch into a Freudian word association game. We are in Vienna, after all, and Daniel Hoesl's serenely composed film without a script invites the mind to go on safari. The sales clerk in the urbane boutique, who introduces us to Fanni, played bewitchingly poker-faced by Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, uses the language of fashion straight from the playground of Roland Barthes. "The dress is a piece of art," he purrs, "the dress makes you … It's not only a dress you wear, it's a dress people talk about." Then he sums it up in English: "It's the power of being deeply moved by beautiful objects." The serious and the ridiculous make for a fine coupling throughout the movie and absolve you from making up your mind how you feel about these objects of desire. Credited as Couturier, the eloquent salesman is played by Gerald Matt, who since 1996 has been the director of the Kunsthalle Wien, one of Europe's most important institutions for contemporary art.

He sets the tone of the film and disappears before the opening credits. The dress he praises is purchased by Fanni and then thrown into the next garbage dumpster by her. The opening scene and a following minute-long close-up of the jewel encrusted clasp of a pearl necklace made me think of the tantalizing shop sequences with Marianne Hoppe and Ferdinand Marian in Helmut Käutner's Romanze In Moll (1943), based on Guy de Maupassant's story Les Bijoux which stands in the sharpest contrast to the present world of Hoesl's movie in which the desire for the next catastrophe (a song by Gustav while the cows come home spells it out) replaces that for precious objects for female decoration. And yet, the pearls change hands and make more than one neck desirable in the mirror.

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Hoesl started out with photography and then discovered time and movement through Gilles Deleuze, as he told me over tea before jetting off for the Sundance premiere of his film in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. The images are carefully chosen, and many of his shots would feel perfectly at home on the walls of a gallery.

Soldate Jeannette, as the film is called originally, adding the feminine ending in e to the word soldier, owes to Jean-Luc Godard while it evokes a very contemporary sense of European unease. Godard's Petit Soldat (1963) echos in the title and his Vivre Sa Vie (1962) takes center stage. In Vivre Sa Vie, Anna Karina goes to see Carl Theodor Dreyer's Passion Of Jeanne D'Arc (1928), and cries about Falconetti's martyrdom and Antonin Artaud's striking face. Fifty years later, Hoesl's Fanni, after shopping, fitness, and lunch with her money-talking Swiss girlfriend, goes to see Vivre Sa Vie and falls asleep, snoring loudly through the very scene that makes Anna Karina cry.

At another point, she suggests sarcastically that her friend should see that "funny film Jeanne Dielman." Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), Chantal Akerman's grand portrait of stasis with the magnificent Delphine Seyrig as a single mother, whose daily routine includes cooking, cleaning and prostitution, functions as a second reference in the title.

There is no character called Soldier Jane in this film, this isn't Mildred Pierce or Veronika Voss or Adèle H. And yet, the film gives you plenty of room and time to think about all of them. Fanni, who is being evicted and has a unique relationship with money (a bit like the character of Katy in the Grimms' tale Freddy And Katy, who doesn't understand all the fuss about these golden chips), makes up her mind to change her life.

After a hike through the Austrian forest, Fanni and the audience meet the second protagonist, Anna (a soulful fox-like Christina Reichsthaler), who works on a modern farm with cows and pigs and potatoes, who are milked, and fed, and sorted by the respective machines. When Anna has no more need for her muddied Wellies, she also moves on.

Daniel Hoesl calls his company European Film Conspiracy a 'fleeing entity… a vehicle, a phantom, a momentum, an engine of war," in which castings and biographies replace a script and the budget is minimal to insure independence. "Here we don't die, we shop," says a character in Don DeLillo's 1985 novel White Noise while anticipating an airborne catastrophe. The war in Soldier Jane is in the great disconnect. Money burns, numbers are magical, Burberry trench coats have lost their outer protective layer and are worn as lining only, for the world to recognize the strict commercial coordinates of the plaid.

Bettina Kõster recapitulates on camera in her haunting song: "I used to be strong, tall and so much admired for my resilience, my diligence, and my good sense of humor." Don't expect anyone to smile in this humorous and provoking film. The close-up of the face of a waitress rattling off an elaborate dessert menu, ready to explode any second, or the absurd timing of an improvised tea ceremony will throw you off your carousel at the perfect speed.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2013
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The language of fashion reveals disconnection in an improvised examination of modern life.


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