'Forward. Side. Close!' ('Vor. Seit. Schluss!'): Film Review

Forward Side Close Still - H 2015
Courtesy of PL
An overly familiar plot executed by fine actors.

24-year-old Austrian filmmaker Alexander Peter Lercher casts veteran actors Heinz Trixner and Christian Futterknecht as two old friends who reconnect.

A grumpy old man holed up in his castle in rural Austria is forced to celebrate his 70th birthday in Forward. Side. Close! (Vor. Seit. Schluss!), the directorial debut of 24-year-old Austrian filmmaker Alexander Peter Lercher. Though the plot of the film is not exactly surprising, the work of a trio of fine actors in the lead roles ensures that the characters come alive, while the proceedings are attractively shot by young and talented U.S. cinematographer Kyle T. Ford. The film had its world premiere at the recent Hollywood Film Festival, where it went home with a shared best narrative prize and Lercher, who studied film stateside, also picked up an emerging filmmaker award. Festivals catering to older audiences should be especially welcoming, though for the 102-minute film to have any life beyond festivals, some judicious trims would be necessary.

The strict and grouchy Dr. Reinhard Nagl (Heinz Trixner) relies on a well-established routine to get through each day, which involves punctual breakfast and cake in the castle garden in the afternoon. Alone. Even the smallest alteration or moment of tardiness in his daily rituals has the old man foaming at the mouth, much to the dismay of his employees, the young maid, Eva-Maria (Sandra Lipp), and the handsome but distracted Maximilian (Julius Kuhn), whose new cake creations delight Eva-Maria as much as they irritate Nagl. To further complicate matters, the two youngsters are also in love.

Lercher, who also wrote the screenplay, takes too long to set up the rather basic premise, which involves the arrival of Lorenz Zweig (Christian Futterknecht), a lifelong friend of the doctor whom Eva-Maria has taken the liberty to invite on the occasion of Reinhard’s 70th birthday. No points for guessing that Nagl isn’t really the kind of person who likes surprises but that he’ll finally agrees to let him stay for the weekend, during which Lorenz will try to melt Reinhard’s icy and rickety heart (he’s had several heart attacks already; a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor). Lorenz requires just one other character to pull of the desired result: Magdalena (Uschi Glas), an ex-flame of Reinhard’s who lives nearby and who’s now divorced. That, too, isn’t exactly surprising.

Indeed, judged purely on plot, the awkwardly titled project is extremely conventional. There’s a moment late in the film in which Reinhard vigorously defends his heartfelt desire to “wait for God to come for him” in dignity, rather than pretending to be something he’s not (i.e., young and someone who follows the latest fashions). It is one of the few moments in the film that surprises but it comes rather late and isn’t explored in enough depth to set the film apart from its countless brethren, with Lercher frequently opting for a combination of facile melodrama and predictable moments of light comedy that often involve Reinhard’s unwillingness to consider things such as rap music or hoodies (which Lorenz rather incongruously seems to like).

That’s not to say there isn’t room for the movie equivalent of comfortable old sweaters. But the way in which the rookie director, who also edited the film, paces the proceedings becomes a problem; because audiences will be familiar with the general gist of the proceedings, each point along the way doesn’t require its own set-up, development and pay-off, which makes the film feel extremely protracted.

Thankfully, it is a joy to watch the experienced cast breathe life into these stock characters. Austrians Trixner and Futterknecht, also lifelong acquaintances in real life, immediately establish the right kind of push-pull rapport between the hip old man and his grumpy counterpart and Bavarian actress Glas is pitch-perfect as the principled woman who clearly still caries a torch for the doctor. The younger cast members have less to do.

If the resolution is never in doubt, and the way it utilizes the subplot involving Reinhard’s employees not exactly shocking, the film is at least a pleasure to watch for the work of the actors and the handsome location, elegantly captured by Ford.  Spanish composer Pablo Anson’s score is richly atmospheric, especially during the film’s opening section, though it later teeters perilously close to elevator music on a few occasions.

For the record: The film was independently financed and received no government or regional aid, as is the norm in much of Europe. Somewhat unusually, the credits don’t even contain the name of a production company, just the names of the producers.

Cast: Heinz Trixner, Christian Futterknecht, Uschi Glas, Sandra Lipp, Julius Kuhn, Herman Van Ulzen, Vivien Wulf, Helmut Nagele, Otto Retzer

Writer-Director: Alexander Peter Lercher

Producers: Elsa Hartlieb, Alexander Peter Lercher

Executive producer: Heinrich von Hanau

Director of photography: Kyle T. Ford

Editor: Alexander Peter Lercher

Music: Pablo Anson


No rating, 102 minutes