Thursday 28 July 2011

Hotel (2004)

HOTEL is an Austrian psychological chiller directed by Jessica Hausner in 2004.  As I think I have mentioned before, there aren't that many female directors around and even fewer making genre movies.  Even more rare is a female director making a genre movie which features mainly female characters.  HOTEL is one such movie. 

Irene is a young woman who has just started a new job at a rather shabby hotel in an Austrian valley.  She learns that the girl whom she replaced had left under circumstances which are being investigated by the police; as the days go by, Irene begins to wonder whether her new colleagues may have had something to do with it.

Franziska Weisz as Irene
HOTEL is an exercise in creating and sustaining an atmosphere.  There are no big shock moments here - the film is all about the slow accumulation of minor occurrences, which gradually build Irene's paranoia to the point where she feels she may be in danger.  This is where the film is successful: seemingly unremarkable events - losing a favourite necklace, finding a pair of spectacles - take on an ominous significance.  The repetitive nature of Irene's tasks means that slight variations to her routine add to the air of menace, as does her colleagues' indifference to her.

The awesome Birgit Minichmayr
Unfortunately all the characters, including Irene, are so passive that when the end does come it doesn't have the impact it should.  It doesn't help that the film is so ambiguous about what has been going on, to the extent that the denouement could mean everything or nothing.

I like this shot, principally because it reminds me of Cinema Delirium
The acting is good, in so far as it is allowed to be.  Franziska Weisz makes a refreshingly ordinary heroine, with her glasses, prim mannner and unflattering clothes.  Birgit Minichmayr, who played one of Hitler's secretaries in DOWNFALL (2004), is a sullen and possibly malevolent presence as Irene's closest colleague Petra.  Mrs Leibig, the hotel caretaker's wife who may be trying to warn Irene that she is in danger, is played by Rosa Waissnix, a non-professional actress who was apparently the manageress of the hotel where the film was shot.

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