Feb 6, 2020

Nevrland (Gregor Schmidinger, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

"I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves."
Friedrich Nietzsche

It is not by mere chance that Gregor Schmidinger opens his promising feature debut with the above-cited words of the great philosopher, because the main protagonist of his (coming-of-age-and-out) story does have a lot of chaos in himself. And it is probably not by chance he names him Jakob, considering that one of many influences felt or recognized in Nevrland (no, it's not a typo!) is Adrian Lyne's cult horror Jacob's Ladder.

Struggling with uncontrollable anxiety attacks and repressed (homo)sexuality, not to mention a huge birthmark on his chest, this 17-yo boy is prone to escaping into the imaginary forest of lush vegetation or spending nights in the virtual world of gay porn. A chat room encounter with a 26-yo artist, Kristjan, sends him down the rabbit hole (or rather, into the labyrinth) of self discovery and healing, as the film that initially appears to be narrative gradually transforms into a nightmarish mood piece.

In turns darkly poetic, candidly sensual, brutally naturalistic and just outright creepy, yet consistent in its exploration of various themes, ranging from modern masculinity to familial pressure to mental health, Schmidinger's psychological drama plunges the viewer directly into the void of (young) human mind, and increasingly blurs the boundaries between fantasy and reality. From the very opening scene, it lures us in with its beautiful imagery which comes off as quite eclectic - Jakob's escapist wanderings mesmerize with their refreshing greens and blues, his everyday is draped in sickly drab tones which become warmer towards the end, whereby the underground club flickers with hellish reds à la Gaspar Noé. And one of the most impressive shots arrives halfway through the film - the birdview of the ornate B&W marble floor of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum which portends our hero's 'fall' and reflects the complexity of his inner workings.

While he demonstrates versatility in his visual style, the author elicits wonderful performance from Simon Frühwirth who portrays Jakob with heart-aching vulnerability, seething energy and micro expressions, as well as from Paul Forman whose Kristjan is an enigmatic figure, simultaneously seductive and subtly menacing. Both of them bring palpable chemistry to the screen, whereas the contrasting personalities of their characters establish tension which corresponds with the stark disparities of Jakob's larger-than-life longings and unenviable situation.

A perfectly trippy companion piece to Till Kleinert's Der Samurai, Nevrland is a damn fine borderline horror flick which the fans of David Lynch may find thrilling...

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