A startling and incisive teen morality drama from Austrian actor-turned-director Karl Markovics.
This is a startling and incisive debut feature from Karl Markovics, the Austrian actor-turned-writer/director perhaps best known to UK audiences for his turn as an unflappable Jewish POW in 2007’s The Counterfeiters. He extracts a performance from young first-timer, Thomas Schubert, that deftly switches between rage, melancholy and a baffled introspection.
The actor is transfixing as a spiky juvenile offender who’s not simply finding it tough adjusting to life on the outside, but is haunted by a violent crime he committed as a youth that landed him in chokey in the first place.
Allowed out on furlough, his day job at a mortuary involves collecting the bodies of the recently deceased, while his downtime is spent swimming and attempting to reconnect with his estranged mother. There's very little dialogue in the film, as Markovics builds tension by simply holding his crisp, immaculately framed shots as long as possible then cutting abruptly right at the tipping point.
This is the story of how he gradually comes to terms with life, but also how he comes to terms with death. His colleagues tease and taunt him for being too scared to touch the dead bodies in order place them in the large stainless steel coffins. One extremely moving scene sees him slowly, gradually begin to understand the tragic inevitability of death and our need to accept it, deal with it and carry on.
This industry which is in place purely to attend to the recently deceased is, of course, not popular, and there's one harrowing moment where they march up to a crime scene where a man has only just been pronounced dead and his girlfriend is – perhaps justifiably – apoplectic with horror.
At times it can feel inordinately glum and depressing, but Markovics has a real eye for the vital lessons we learn from simply living our lives. It's admirable that he's tackling the subject head on, and he does offer hope in the small human connections we forge on a daily basis.
Actors moving behind the camera rarely guarantees a sure-fire winner.
This is an exceptional debut. Subtle, moving, thoughtful and beautifully filmed.
As an actor-turned-director film, Markovics bracing debut is up there with Xavier Beauvois' of Gods and Men.