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“Rimini” by Ulrich Seidl: The mammoth in the fog

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The refugees who spread out in the Adriatic residence of the shabby hit star Richie Bravo are, to a certain extent, part of the standard setting of a film by Ulrich Seidl. They sit bored in front of their camper van, leave their rubbish in the driveway and take over the living room. Of course, Richie is not an altruist, the Austrian director is always concerned with the greatest possible contrast.

The hit king of Rimini – fur coat over undershirt, greasy quiff, greasy pick-up lines, played by Michael Thomas as a spongy teddy bear – is actually under siege in his already shrinking empire. And at this point in “Rimini” the pompous gesture and the creamy murmur finally take on tragicomic traits. In this scenario, the fugitives are pure accessories (they don’t say a single sentence) – and in this respect they are basically on a par with the Richie Bravo cardboard cutout in front of which the would-be gigolo practices his aging poses.

The morbid summer myth of Rimini

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When “Rimini” had its world premiere at the Berlinale in spring, the critics looked forgivingly at this (by Seidl’s standards) loving swan song of a myth – meaning both Richie Bravo and the seaside resort of Rimini with its all-inclusive hotels and run-down casinos can be. Since the allegations against Ulrich Seidl, which Der Spiegel published for the first time in a six-page story at the beginning of September, followed by further research by the Austrian magazine Falter, people have looked at Rimini and the fugitive actors with different eyes.

Seidl is accused – by parents and employees – of not adequately protecting his young actors during the shooting of his film “Sparta” in Romanians, of having even forced them to perform traumatic scenes under psychological pressure. He also withheld from his parents that “Sparta” was about a man with pedophile tendencies.

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The film itself, which had its premiere in San Sebastian after the cancellation of the Toronto festival, is, according to initial reviews, harmless and less provocative than Seidl is used to. Nevertheless, the question arises once again under what conditions this cinema, in which amateurs play alongside professional actors and in which information is withheld for the sake of “authentic” expression, is created.

Seidl has always pushed the boundaries between fiction and documentation so far that his films walk the fine line between humanism and voyeurism. Above all, he worked his way through his compatriots – and accepted the collateral damage with approval. In his feature film debut “Good News” from 1990, these were the Indian newspaper vendors in the streets of Vienna; in “Paradies: Liebe” (2012) the “Beach Boys” in a Kenyan holiday resort offering their bodies to older Austrian women. And in “Safari” (2018) a giraffe is killed in front of the camera while hunting big game.

The critics appreciate Seidl’s films with fascinated disgust

The question of power relations (in front of and behind the camera), which Seidl’s films raise and also reflect in all ambivalence, arises again after the allegations in the “Spiegel”. The “Falter” even asks whether the “Method Seidl”, which was also sometimes applauded by the film critics with fascinated disgust, is reaching its limits here. “Rimini” also touches on these questions; on the one hand because of the refugee actors – and because Richie’s brother Ewald (Georg Friedrich) is the main actor in the complementary film “Sparta”.

“Rimini” seems more harmless because it is designed as an exaggerated hagiography, comparable to Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” – also with regard to the physiognomy of its protagonists. In this nostalgia mode, “Rimini” can indulge in his foreign shame production without completely alienating the audience. The atmospheric off-season on the Adriatic does the rest: Richie in a fur coat trudges like a mammoth through the clammy autumn fog on Rimini’s beach, the morbid charm of the empty hotel foyers and casinos creates an apocalyptic atmosphere.

However, Richie is also a character that cannot be easily disavowed, if only because of Michael Thomas’ imposing appearance. He accepts his fate without complaint. He charms the sprightly Rimini tourists (along with their husbands) just as conscientiously as he did the female fans in his heyday, the “Amore mio” still comes fervently from his lips; as well as (a matter of honor for Seidl) the “Winnetou” tearjerker written by Thomas for the film.

In the casinos of Rimini, Richie Bravo often plays in front of half-empty seats.
© Photo: New Visions

Richie tops up his meager salary with charity. The sex together dirty talk is typical Seidl uncomfortable, but now also a scam. Despite his limited opportunities, Richie has retained his dignity. When his demented father (Hans-Michael Rehberg in his last role) starts singing a Wehrmacht song in the nursing home, Richie spontaneously sings “Amore mio” to him.

Richie’s economic constraints intensify when suddenly his adult daughter Tessa (Tessa Göttlicher) and her baby’s father – a young refugee who always stands next to father and daughter like a guilty conscience incarnate – appear and demand 18 years of outstanding maintenance payments. Hallodri Richie, who usually has women at his feet, literally falls to his knees at some point in view of the new fatherly responsibility.

(In cinemas from Thursday)

Basically, “Rimini” would not have needed the Tessa sideline. However, he hints at Seidl’s mildness of age, which smoothes this striking work a little. They make the most recent, well-documented allegations (according to “Spiegel” police investigations were started in Romania) sound all the more strange.

Seidl has always provoked such controversies, so far critics have only dealt with them primarily on an aesthetic level. The films themselves provide at best circumstantial evidence, no evidence. But at a time when production conditions in particular are being questioned, it is no longer so easy to separate the work from the artist. Perhaps the “Method Seidl” is not obsolete at all, but merely in need of reform. With Kurdwin Ayub’s “Sonne”, which received an award at the Berlinale, Seidl produced a young director who interprets a few productive ideas of this method in a more open and contemporary way. Looking down on the characters from above no longer creates moral sovereignty.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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