Monday, January 18, 2010

ANGST (Directed by Gerald Kargl) (1983. Austria)


A man is released from prison after serving four years for murdering an elderly woman. He quickly begins to feel the compulsion to kill again. After failing to murder a cab driver, he flees and discovers a secluded rural home, where a young woman lives with her sick mother and retarded brother. He then begins to take out his sadistic pleasures on them, attempting to hold them hostage, while thinking of his troubled childhood with his abusive mother and grandmother...

- Summary written by Brian Patrick

" (...) Kargl's genius here is to show everything in real time, with numerous close-ups and diegetic sound. Viewers get to experience none of the pleasure (whether guilty or gleefully acknowledged) that comes from watching stylized, aestheticized killing—replete with slow-motion camerawork, overlapping edits and a meticulously composed mise-en-scene. Instead, writer-cinematographer Zbigniew Rybczynski alternates close-up point-of-view shots of the victim and her attacker and some canted overhead shots besides, constantly altering our relationship to the action."

(...) What makes Angst so interesting, even important—and what those viewers hoping for the Austrian equivalent of Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal are bound to miss—is the fact that the film's numerous "failures" are precisely what constitutes its success. Not only the failures of the killer, whose grand scheme amounts to nothing more than three chaotic and wholly undignified murders. So too the failures of the director, who satisfies none of the genre's conventions, and who eschews the popular tradition of romanticizing the serial killer, of turning him into a sort of neo-Gothic anti-hero.

(...) Even more than Michael Rooker's Henry (modeled on prolific US multiple murderer Henry Lee Lucas)—a character described by at least one commentator as a "Marlon Brando/James Dean angry young rebel, complete with pout, mumbles, short curly hair, square jaw, and white T-shirt" Rudolf Götz's Werner Kniesek-inspired sociopath comes frighteningly close to providing us with a true "portrait" of a serial killer. And if we find that portrait less than appealing, and Angst that much more difficult to take because of it, this only speaks to the film's haunting power and strikingly original construction."

- from "A different kind of killer" by Steven Jay Schneider

"As noted earlier, ANGST’s dramatic structure is reduced to only a very small amount of narration: we are simply shown the killer’s murder spree on his one and only day of freedom. What might cause some empathy with this dangerous character—his own first-person-narration—in fact functions to alienate the viewer even more. This because the voice-overs simply double on the verbal level the monstrous incidents shown to us in all their graphic horror. Through the use of this technique, the film creates a distance between audience and protagonist that never really subsides. The murder sequences may be visually shocking, but they are also deeply reflective. Kargl avoids providing any type of entertainment, conventional thrill, or suspense. In fact Kargl and Rybczynski seem to believe that entertainment through stalk’n’slash splatter films is a sign of cynicism and should be avoided. As a result, they have tried to develop a directing method marked by intellectual distance. Austria is a true middle-class society, and the greatest fear of the middle class is the invasion of the bourgeois home by unpredictable elements, be they of foreign origin—this is where racism comes into play—or be they mentally ill. ANGST’s killer eventually belongs to the same bourgeois background as his choice of victims. This would seem to be the real Austrian nightmare."

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