My Blind Heart (Mein Blindes Herz): Rotterdam Review

My Blind Heart Film Still - H 2014
Rotterdam Film Festival

My Blind Heart Film Still - H 2014

Scintillating mix of image and sound reveals a man's fight against a dying light.

Austrian Peter Brunner's black-and-white fictional feature-film directorial debut follows a young man's struggle with the genetic disorder Marfan's Syndrome.

Much has been said about Peter Brunner's links to his compatriot Michael Haneke, what his official bio highlighting his being a student of the Palme d'Or winner at the Vienna Film Academy; it's a connection further strengthened by the presence of the auteur's frequent collaborator, the late actress Susanne Lothar, on the first-time director's directorial debut, which bowed at Slamdance last week and then Rotterdam the past weekend.

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But My Blind Heart hardly seems to be owe that much a due from Haneke, what with its spunky disavowal of stylistic rigor. Instead, this dark, black-and-white piece about a man's war against his defected mortal coil actually draws obvious inspiration from David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard and, most importantly, Shinya Tsakumoto's Tetsuo films, what with Brunner's recurrent deployment of both machine-gun collages or surreal masochistic imagery to highlight his protagonist's attempt to reject and destroy his diseased body.

Boasting scintillating visuals, revolutionary ideology which charges social norms head on, and powerful performances from its cast – especially Christos Haas as the protagonist and also Jana McKinnon and Robert Schmiedt as his companions at various stages of his struggle – My Blind Heart should cast a continuously arresting presence in the festival circuit, with limited releases a distinct possibility too.

Its theme of an unwell individual's efforts to cope with his medical disorder should also resonate with showcases dedicated to films touching on such issues too – something Brunner himself might have envisioned too, given a (supposedly) real snippet at the film's end of an Indian man recounting (to the film's lead character) his existence with the ailment and his triumph over his predicament through determination and invention.

It's a positive note to end what the film's proper story itself, which is mostly a disturbing account of a life rife with trauma and grief. In one of the film's many Godard-esque murmured monologues, protagonist Kurt (Haas, who like his character is inflicted with the genetic disorder of Marfan Syndrome) talks about his diseased body as akin to "an art piece in cosmos"; in another, he says human beings as merely an amalgamation of DNA patterns. These are just the obvious exemplars of what defines Kurt's battle in My Blind Heart: his defiance against the limits of his corporal circumstances.

It's a nightmarish rebellion which begins in a deadly manner: when the story begins, Kurt has killed his mother (Lothar), who is seen naked and bloodied in bed; in a quick flashback, it's revealed that the young man's application for marine studies in Los Angeles had been rejected, an event which (probably, as Brunner opts out of detailed exposition here) might have caused his inner fury to avenge the body's maternal roots (with images hinting at the mother being also ill-stricken, a constantly wig-covered head suggesting cancer and chemotherapy).

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Dazed and confused, he tries to leave the house before quickly returns, bashing the door in to get inside – just one of a subsequent symbolic acts of breaking and entering his physical realm –  clumsily attend to the corpse before packing up to leave. In more flashbacks, Kurt's destructive demeanor is revealed, with his nihilistic acts of mischief at care homes leading to reprimands and expulsions. But all this can be seen as a rebellion against the entrapment within his own skin, his fascination with the internet a sign of his desire to overcome the "inner amok" of his body and discover intangible existence.

It's on this that he bonds with Conny (McKinnon, Revanche), a young tearaway with whom he rent a dilapidated floor of a building as a base. They would record chaos-wreaking acts and upload them to YouTube, while committing some others (including smearing themselves in mud and charging into a church to "see whether God's in") and planning even more drastic plans of bringing meltdown to their home city of Vienna – such as blowing up the towering flak towers in the city's northern outskirts of Augarten, an idea somehow prompted by the conspiracy theorists spouted by their Taser-hawking model-shop owner landlord (Georg Friedrich).

Kurt and Conny would eventually row, with the latter infuriated by the former's nihilistic ways – a parting which speaks volumes about the chasm standing in between these two erstwhile kindred spirits, with the middle-class Conny simply spurning a future which Kurt doesn't seem to have. In comes a new ally in the form of Robbie (Robert Schmiedt), a young Down's Syndrome-inflicted man whose anguish rhymes more with Kurt's; again this is someone aspiring for the ethereal, a seemingly no-nonsense man who says he would name his children after Twilight's paranormal pair Edward Cullen and Bella Swan.

It's a downward spiral which eventually leads to tragedy, a conclusion perhaps foretold by a recurrent image Kurt constantly has in his head, when he would extend destroy his own hand by slowly passing it through a fan comprising revolving knives. It's the ultimate denial of his own body, and just one of many jolting designs from Simone Ehegartner and Nina Salak which brings Kurt's inner turmoil to life; coupled with the disorientation generated by Franz Dude's camerawork and music from Brunner himself (in his musical alter-ego of Cardiochaos) and Laura Endes, My Blind Heart proposes a journey into the dark – but with the protagonist's deadly energy burning like light.

Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Hivos Tiger Competition)
Production Company: Cataract Vision
Director: Peter Brunner
Cast: Christos Haas, Jana McKinnon, Susanne Lothar, Robert Schmiedt
Producer: Klara Veegh, Therese Seeman
Screenwriter: Peter Brunner
Director of Photography: Franz Dude
Editor: Peter Brunner
Production Designers: Simone Ehegartner, Nina Salak
Sound Designer: Laura Endes
Music Composer: Cardiochaos
International Sales: Cataract Vision
In German
No rating, 92 minutes