Part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival
With their marriage marooned quite firmly on the rocks, Viennese middle-classers Anna and Nick decide to take a six-month break in the Swiss alps. The retreat is intended to give her time to work on her latest novel, him to compile a number of local recipes for his latest cookbook and the pair of them to work out the kinks in their relationship. However, an accident en-route to the chalet throws their whole lives off-kilter, with fantasy and reality beginning to merge in an increasingly opaque existence plagued by distorted timelines, talking animals and simmering violence.
The script is adapted from an unfinished work by Austrian filmmaker Jörg Kalt, who tragically took his own life in 2007 before the movie could be realised. In the hands of Polish director Greg Zglinksi, the story is given lashings of suggestive symbolism and latent meaning in every shot; characters, dialogues and actions become greater than the sum of their parts and vehicles for a message that is lingering just out of the viewer’s grasp. It’s by turns jarring, compassionate and even scary at times, but remains thoroughly mesmerising throughout.
That attraction is down at least in part to the performances of Philipp Hochmair as the infuriatingly arrogant womaniser Nick and Birgit Minichmayr as the wounded but impulsive Anna, with the chemistry and the tension between the two filling much of the film’s screentime. Mona Petri and Mehdi Nebbou are also excellent in their respective supporting roles, and though the acting certainly helps maintain the movie’s appeal, its script and direction are the main draws here. Fans of David Lynch and overt symbolism will be in their element, as the film continually hints at an enormous masterplan hidden just behind the curtain, but never fully pulls it back to reveal its secrets.
Sticklers for closure and a nice, neat ending will probably leave the cinema with teeth gnashing and hair pulled out in great chunks, but those who enjoy a film which invites interpretation won’t go away unsatisfied. There are a variety of possible explanations what for unfolds onscreen – whichever the viewer chooses to believe is up to them. Whatever their decision, it’s to be hoped that they at least enjoy the ride.