Film Review: March



Vienna International Film Festival

VIENNA -- Austrian multi-hyphenate Haendl Klaus makes a low-key but reasonably promising start as a feature-film writer-director with "March," in which we observe how the suicides of three student friends in a small Tyrolean town impacts their family, friends and community. The downbeat slow-burner (based on a true case) will pop up on the circuit over the coming months, but commercial prospects are dim.

Sometime playwright, prose-writer and actor, Klaus made a short in 2004 which shares the title of this new "March" ("Maerz") and forms the feature's prologue. In it, we see the students playing handball and then, later the same night, executing their suicide-pact. But the vast bulk of the running-time comprises what happens next: a portrait gradually builds of a stodgily respectable, modestly affluent area, which we patiently scrutinize for clues to explain the tragedy.

This isn't the kind of movie, of course, that seeks to provide easy answers. Klaus is more interested in his characters and their interactions than in plotting tense drama. He crafts a showcase for his ensemble to explore aspects of grief and guilt. Among them, veteran Isolde Ferlesch makes the most moving impact as one of the suicides' stoical store-keeper mother. Klaus' directorial style is familiar from countless previous Euro-arthouse entries -- detached, unadorned, hand-held -- and anyone who's seen any of the recent, moodily bleak Austrian fare from the likes of Jessica Hausner or Barbara Albert (both thanked in the credits here) will know precisely what to expect.