'Wild Mouse' ('Wilde Maus'): Film Review | Berlin 2017

Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival
Rock me, Amadeus.

Austrian comedian Josef Hader writes, directs and stars in this Berlin competition contender about a Viennese music critic whose midlife crisis spirals out of control.

A classical music critic suffers a tragicomic midlife meltdown in Wild Mouse, the feature-directing debut of Austrian stage and screen comedian Josef Hader. Premiering in the main competition in Berlin ahead of its domestic theatrical launch next week, this genial farce deals in familiar and occasionally glib material, but with a redeeming undertow of self-deprecating humor. It is not the most original or challenging film in the Berlinale program, but it may be the most effortlessly fun.

A household name in both Austria and Germany, Hader has been a prize-winning actor, screenwriter and cabaret performer for more than two decades. Last year he starred in Maria Schrader's literary biopic Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, which became the official Austrian Oscar submission. His fame may not extend far beyond the German-speaking world, but it should help secure solid commercial numbers when Wild Mouse opens in Austria on Friday, followed by a German rollout in March.

On the world stage, German-language comedies usually get lost in translation. Wild Mouse lacks the left-field originality and emotional kick of Marian Ade's celebrated Oscar contender Toni Erdmann, but its themes and jokes are still fairly universal. Niche theatrical interest in overseas markets is not out of the question.

Hader stars as 50-ish Georg, the long-standing classical music reviewer for a highbrow Viennese newspaper. After his contract is abruptly terminated by his smarmy, budget-slashing German editor Waller (Jorg Hartmann), Georg is initially too proud and humiliated to break the news to his psychotherapist wife, Johanna (Pia Hierzegger). Instead, he pretends he is still employed and spends his free time moping around the Prater fairground park, a classic Viennese movie location seen in The Third Man and many others.

At the park, Georg runs into Erich (Georg Friedrich), a hot-tempered mechanic who used to bully him at school, and his young Romanian girlfriend Nicoleta (Crina Semciuc). All three are damaged souls with uncertain futures, but between them this ill-matched trio take on the shared project of restoring a crumbling rollercoaster, The Wild Mouse. Georg's classical music knowledge pays unlikely dividends here.

Meanwhile, 43-year-old Johanna is desperately craving a baby before her ovaries go into hibernation. Having failed to conceive for years, she blames Georg and his sluggish sperm count. As their marriage reaches breaking point over his secret double life, she kicks him out of their shared apartment and begins seeking out potential alternative sperm donors, including her regular client Sebastian (Denis Moschitto), who is sweet and flirtatious but inconveniently gay.

As his midlife crisis spirals out of control, an increasingly bitter Georg escalates his clandestine campaign of revenge against his former boss. He starts with minor acts of vandalism on Waller's shiny Porsche and flashy modernist mansion. But by the end of the film he is in full nervous breakdown mode, journeying deep into the snowy mountain hinterlands of southern Austria with a loaded gun and lethal intentions. There will be blood.

On paper, of course, the last thing cinema needs is yet another tragicomedy about a middle-aged, well-heeled, self-pitying white male who is as mad as hell and not willing to take it any more. Hader seems to acknowledge this by dropping snippets of news reports about refugees, war and terrorism into the drama, but this just feels like a clumsy bid to inject a little topical grit and depth into an otherwise light-hearted farce.

That said, Hader largely succeeds in sweetening this unappetizing setup with wit and charm, and he certainly does not let Georg's pompous egomania off the hook. His screenplay is also an elegantly constructed affair, sprinkled with wry quips ("A bit of meat would have done Hitler a lot of good") and artfully buried jokes that only pay off over the long haul. The crazed finale, which features Georg romping through deep snow dressed in just his underpants, at least shows an endearing lack of vanity from an actor-director.

Set to a bustling soundtrack of Mozart, Schubert, Handel, Vivaldi and more, Wild Mouse plays a familiar melody, but hits most of the right notes. Handsome CinemaScope photography by Xiaosu Han and Andreas Thalhammer adds to the overall sense of a classy package, especially during the snowy mountain scenes.

Production company: Wega Film
Cast: Josef Hader, Pia Hierzegger, Georg Friedrich, Jorg Hartmann, Denis Moschitto, Crina Semciuc
Director-screenwriter: Josef Hader
Producers: Michael Katz, Veit Heiduschka
Cinematographers: Xiaosu Han, Andreas Thalhammer
Editors: Ulrike Kofler, Monika Willi, Christoph Brunner

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Competition)
Sales: The Match Factory

103 minutes

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