Ibiza Occident: Film Review

Involving doc about Ibiza and its nightlife offers unexpected angles but doesn’t dig much below the glam surface.

Austrian Günter Schwaiger's doc focuses on the life styles of residents of the famed isle of nightlife, Ibiza, as he tours even the most obscure parts of this paradise.

MONTREAL — Storied isle of excess Ibiza is anthropologized in Ibiza Occident, an involving doc by Austrian Günter Schwaiger that covers the island's history from many angles without quite seeming comprehensive. Despite lacking a compelling central narrative or standout character, the visually rich film could ride its subject's renown to a respectable niche theatrical run.

Broken into barely connected vignettes, the film follows no straightforward thematic course but doesn't suffer much from its absence. Focusing on one or two people at a time, Schwaiger is less interested examine his interviewees than gaining a view of island life from their perspectives, often hopping to obscure parts of Ibiza for calm, sun-drenched rest stops. Generally speaking, the younger the interviewee -- a saxophonist who gets gigs because she's pretty and blonde, a local-born guy working in a low-end hotel -- the less compelling this section will be.

Older interviewees offer the film's most enduring images, such as the friendly restaurateur who enjoyed the club scene's perks for years but embraced Ibiza's simple pleasures after a drunk driver killed his teenage son. Consistently, the scene's veterans -- none of whom seems embittered -- describe the Ibiza of decades past as a less materialistic place, where VIPs danced alongside the unwashed and a little cash could buy a summer of happy, participatory hedonism. Now, as a man who opened his first disco in 1967 notes, partiers don't even bother to dance when they visit the spectacle, "they just jump up and down."

We see a lot of that jumping, as Schwaiger takes his camera into arena-sized clubs whose patrons look thoroughly dull, no matter how young and beautiful. What's onstage, though, is rarely boring ‑ extravagantly costumed (and un-costumed) dancers who writhe under lasers or hang from the ceiling, often masked so their perfect bodies aren't complicated by personality.

Surprisingly for a filmmaker who says he was motivated by a fascination with the electronic music that drives this scene, Schwaiger offers only one real glimpse of its creation -- in a segment on DJ Christian Varela, who spends two or three nights a week hosting parties around the globe and constructs beat-soaked environments using far more than two turntables and a microphone.

Venue: Montreal World Film Festival, Documentaries of the World
Production Companies: Mosolov-P, Günter Schwaiger Film, TVE, ORF
Director-screenwriter-producer: Günter Schwaiger
Directors of photography: Victor Martín, Günter Schwaiger
Editor: Martin Eller, Günter Schwaiger
No rating, 88 minutes