State of the Nation (image 1)

Screened as part of NZIFF 2003

State of the Nation 2002

Zur Lage

Directed by Barbara Albert, Michael Glawogger, Ulrich Seidl, Michael Sturminger

Austria In German with English subtitles
85 minutes 35mm

Producers

Erich Lackner
,
Klaus Pridnig

Photography

Eva Testor
,
Michael Glawogger
,
Ulrich Seidl

Editor

Karina Ressler

Music

Patrick Pulsinger

Festivals

Locarno, Amsterdam Documentary, London 2002

Elsewhere

The ascension of Jörg Haider’s far right in the 1999 Austrian elections prompted four of the nation’s ‘new wave’ to make a series of short documentaries that resulted in the present film. In the first chapter, ‘A Journey’, one filmmaker hitches lifts in the front seat of a series of cars while drivers expound upon their versions of events. One driver feels that Haider has gotten at least one policy just right – kicking out all the foreigners – but apart from that, he’ll be a crook like all his fellow politicians. A young, long-haired man bemoans the dreary conservatism of his fellow Austrians: ‘If you don’t wear a grey pullover and blue pants, then you’re an outcast.’ There is no room here for Goth types like himself. He doesn’t agree with what Hitler did to the Jews in the gas chambers, but had Hitler gone about it in a different way, got them out peacefully, that might have been okay. The second chapter ‘Johann Leeb’ by Ulrich Seidl (Dog Days) features an obsessive writer of letters to the media calling for stricter discipline. ‘Three Visits’ takes us into the home of three middle-class, casually racist and devoutly nationalist folk. Barbara Albert (Northern Skirts) allows us to spend time with six women coping with work, children, relationships. We then end up in a ‘Scene at the Wine Tavern’ (again by Seidl) where a couple down massive beers and become increasingly vociferous on a variety of subjects. Their testimony and notions of Fatherland offer a troubling climax. What is most chilling is the ease and conviction with which many of the subjects air their prejudiced and bigoted views. To their great credit the filmmakers provide a context; the background of ignorance and hardship that provides fertile ground for such notions is clear to see. Although the ideas of some of the films’ subjects are grimly and uncomfortably funny, the filmmakers don’t aim for cheap laughs at their subjects’ expense. It would be cosy to believe that all this is happening ‘only in Austria’, but what is powerful about this series of films is the way it evokes the banality of intolerance: the assumption that ‘normal people like us’ all think the same way – and have no time for politics or politicians. — Sandra Reid