The Fatherless: Berlin Review

Ensemble drama about kids coming home to bury their father is only slightly elevated by backstory about life in a commune.

Austrian director Marie Kreutzer’s film about the death of a patriarch that draws family members back home has mixed results.

BERLIN — Films where a death draws a disparate group together at a remote location can run the gamut from masterpieces to run-of-the-mill dramas. Austrian director Marie Kreutzer’s The Fatherless ends up somewhere in the middle, scoring more points with the backstory of communal life in the ‘70s than the characters’ relationships or a (mildly) surprising ending.

Austrian box office returns (it opens there April 8) should be fine, but the film’s expansion even into other German-speaking territories is doubtful, with a few European festival gigs more likely.

Kreutzer has chosen a dilapidated house in the Austrian countryside and its idyllic surroundings as the setting for her story, set in motion when the leader of a former commune dies. His children, all raised as free spirits, dutifully return.

What ensues is not really surprising: Two of the children have brought their respective partners, so there’s room for an affair between the outsiders. Meanwhile the rest piece together their childhoods from wildly varying memories. Only Krya, played by Andrea Wenzl, gets a more interesting past, which serves as a thin red line leading to the film’s ending: Having been born to a different mother than the others, she was ejected from the commune 23 years ago under circumstances that are somehow connected to Mizzi (Emily Cox), who suffers from a neurological disorder.

While these diverse characters and the natural beauty of the farmhouse, coupled with some nostalgic props like vinyl records and old letters, give Kreutzer and her actors enough to play with, it’s the flashbacks into communal life (done in vibrant colors) and discussions on that subject that stir our interest. The big secret is something of a letdown.

The actors are universally competent and engaging with Wenzl standing out with a mysterious, nuanced and accessible performance. Johannes Krisch makes the most of his scant screen time as the charismatic, unfatherly patriarch.

In the end, The Fatherless is more talking heads and less cinematic than one would wish for. While it does hold our interest for its 105 minutes, this is no The Big Chill. More of a mild cold.

Technical credits are solid with Leena Koppe’s cinematography gracing beautiful exteriors and moody interiors. 

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Panorama Special)
Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion GmbH
Cast: Andrea Wenzl, Philipp Hochmair, Andreas Kiendl, Emily Cox, Marion Mitterhammer
Director/screenwriter: Marie Kreutzer
Producer: Franz Novotny, Alexander Glehr, Ursula Wolschlager, Robert Buchschwenter
Director of photography: Leena Koppe
Production designer: Martin Reiter
Music: David Hebenstreit
Costume designer: Veronika Albert
Editor: Ulrike Kofler
No rating, 105 minutes.