'The Last Summer of the Rich' ('Der letzte Sommer der Reichen'): Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
The hills are alive with the sound of lesbian bondage orgies

Cult Austrian auteur Peter Kern upholds Berlin film festival tradition with this year's obligatory sub-Fassbinder portrait of sexually depraved Eurotrash monsters

Nuns with guns, rubber fetishwear, red hot lesbian sex, brown paper packages tied up with string - these are a few of Peter Kern's favorite things. A prolific Austrian writer, director and actor, Kern appeared in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Despair, as well as films by Wim Wenders and Werner Schroeter. But Fassbinder has a lot to answer for, spawning a school of stagey, sour, sexually depraved European melodrama which still carries cultural weight long after it lost all emotional and political bite. A darkly comic thriller about the polymorphously perverse monsters who run Viennese high society, Kern's latest pungent auteur effort might have had transgressive shock value if it had been released in 1978.

Made on a modest budget of around $ 700,000 after its anticipated state funding fell through, The Last Summer of the Rich is a wildly uneven, mildly amusing experiment in Eurotrash retro-decadence. Premiering in the Berlinale's Panorama section, it should generate modest interest based on Kern's track record. But at a festival where Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the star attractions, this kind of tastefully shot soft-porn orgy feels like a quaint relic of a bygone age, like The Sound of Music spiced up with some politely raunchy nun-on-nun action.

Multilingual Euro-vamp Amira Casar stars as Hanna von Stezewitz, latex-loving fashion queen and heiress to a vast business empire, whose life of limitless power and privilege has corrupted her into a sadistic tyrant. Accompanied everywhere by her faithful fixer Boris (Winfried Glatzeder), Hanna has no qualms about taking anything she desires, even sexually molesting her underage female interns. Initially ignoring calls to visit her dying grandfather (Heinz Trixner), a crusty old patriarch with a shady Nazi past, Hanna finally takes a selfish interest when she meets his nurse, the beautiful young nun Sarah (Nicole Gerdon).

When an unlikely romance blossoms between her and Sarah, Hanna begins to soften her venomously misanthropic outlook. But she has already made too many enemies, and a faceless hit man is stalking her, warning that she will be killed at the height of her happiness. False friends and treacherous colleagues are also plotting against Hanna, ready to seize her empire when the old man dies. Death is never far away, but meanwhile there is always time for some red hot lesbian sex, which Kern includes at regular intervals purely out of emotional and dramatic necessity.

Full of campy performances, gratingly bad lines and clumsy attempts at caustic social commentary, The Last Summer of the Rich is a bumpy ride. If this were a Pedro Almodovar, Francois Ozon or John Waters movie, the ironic tone would be precisely calibrated. But it is never entirely clear whether Kern intends to satirize or celebrate the Fassbinder school of jaded decadence, or whether he even recognizes any distinction.

To his credit, Kern and his producer-cinematographer Peter Roehsler know how to transform a lean budget into sumptuous high-gloss visuals. Drenched in classical music, The Last Summer of the Rich apes the luxuriant color palette and beautifully lit composition style of a classic 70mm production from the 1970s, or a vintage Helmut Newton fashion shoot at least. Not as much trashy fun as it should have been, but not as painfully self-serious as it could have been, this shlocky horror picture show falls midway between guilty pleasure and masturbatory indulgence. Speaking of which, did I mention the red hot lesbian sex?  

Production Company: Nanookfilm
Cast: Amira Casar, Nicole Gerdon, Winfried Glatzeder, Heinz Trixner, Traute Furtner
Director, screenwriter: Peter Kern
Producer, cinematographer: Peter Roehsler
Editor: Marcus Gotzmann
Set designers: Laura Nasmyth, Anna Reschl
Costumes: Agnes Hamvas
Casting: Eva Roth
Sales company: Nanookilm, Vienna
Unrated, 91 minutes

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