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A small-scale documentary that covers a lot of ground in more ways than one, Austria’s Steadiness (Sitzfleisch) winningly combines home-movie and road-movie genres. Newcomer Lisa Weber unfussily chronicles a mid-summer, trans-European car-journey she made with her brother and grandparents, with the focus very much on the latter — a couple who’ve been together for half a century. She captures some mordantly amusing episodes as grandpa Hansi motors north towards the tip of Arctic Scandinavia, but there’s more going on here than simply “scenes from a marriage.” Festivals and platforms seeking engaging, accessible non-fiction fare should seek out this unassuming charmer, which premiered amid little fanfare in Rotterdam’s sprawling winter showcase.
Graduating from shorts to feature-length work for the first time, Weber handles most of the key duties but delegates editing responsibilities to the slightly more experienced Roland Stottinger. This proves a wise move, as Stottinger is able to assess the material in a more distanced way than Weber herself — whose role during the expedition is both family member and filmmaker — could have managed. And the picture is first and foremost an editing job, condensing many hours of footage in and around the two-week holiday into a brisk 80-minute package.
Weber’s seventy-ish grandparents Johann (‘Hansi’) and Gertrud (‘Gertl’) dominate proceedings from the outset, with backseat duo Lucas and Lisa observing their often disharmonious interactions with various degrees of bemusement and bafflement.
“Really, Grandma, you shouldn’t put up with everything,” remarks college-age Lucas, tiring of Hansi’s ceaseless kvetching and the way he snaps at and generally needles his long-suffering spouse. The generation gap is thus illustrated with tact and humor, Weber accumulating dozens of tiny details of speech and gesture into an absorbing portrait of what now looks like a decidedly old-fashioned union.
But as the quartet make their way from Austria through Germany and Sweden to Norway — their destination the notoriously disappointing North Cape — Steadiness (the English-language title only an approximate translation for the much more complex German original) also touches on wider topics, such as the nature of modern car-bound tourism and the consumerist blandness of prosperous western Europe. The Weber clan, cocooned in their cozy BMW, barely interact with any other people along the way: Hansi listens to his beloved ‘schlager’ pop music at every opportunity, and takes a generous supply of dried sausage from home. Thus, the family clocks up the kilometers in a kind of bubble of Austrian-ness, overnighting in one interchangeably chintzy Euro-hotel after another.
Weber herself seems to have toted her camera-rig and sound-equipment nearly all of the way — she’s glimpsed in an elevator mirror at one point — and her status allows her the kind of extended, intimate access that documentarians dream of. It’s to her credit that the finished product never feels intrusive or pruriently exploitative, and that Hansi’s various eccentricities and peccadilloes generally fall on the right side of the narrow line that separates the endearing from the infuriating.
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Bright Future), January 24 2013
Production company: Takacs Film
Director/Screenwriter/Director of photography: Lisa Weber
Producer: Rudi Takacs
Editor: Roland Stottinger
Sales: Takacs Film, Vienna
No MPAA rating, 80 minutes
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