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Tuesday
Feb052008

Antares

In case we were not clear on the matter, the closing credits of this film feature a constellation that contains this eponymous star, one of the brightest in the firmament we call the visible universe.   One may suspect that the name was chosen to show the interconnectedness of the lives of the film's three young couples, one of whom is no longer a couple, in a building complex in the greater Vienna area.  With such a premise one may also suspect that Antares will inevitably devolve into what is lovingly termed hyperlink cinema, in which an unfathomable amount of coincidence (to the point, in many cases, of lottery–like odds) brings together the whole ensemble cast in a most execrable miniature of globalization.  That this plot–avoiding technique has become a cliché of modern filmmaking is bad enough; worse still is the supposition that many takes on the same happenings may teach us about the complications of perspective and, ultimately (here we feel the director tensing and getting giddy), relativity.   It is one thing to offer several views of the same events or issues; it is quite another to assume that because different people see different things, these events and issues are imbued with greater significance and profundity.     
 
Despite my antipathy to coincidence, overlaps of fate do occur, and the chances of their happening are increased exponentially by physical nearness.  A cause–and–effect chain stretching across continents is not only ridiculous, it essentially confirms the possibility that everything is so closely related that the slightest gesture may bring down a mountain (there is a theory, a wildly inventive theory for this type of outlook), which might make you think twice before you drop that banana peel in the middle of the road. Nevertheless, director and writer Götz Spielmann gets this one right: if you're going to have an overlap, make everyone bump around the same concrete prism.  So we meet three couples who are more or less neighbors, each of whom gets its own vignette: Eva (Petra Morzé) and her lover Tomasz (Andreas Patton); Marco (Dennis Cubic) and his girlfriend Sonja (Susanne Wuest); and Marco's lover Nicole (Martina Zinner) and her highly abusive and estranged partner Alex (Andreas Kiendl). Marco and Sonja live together in the complex, while Eva resides nearby with her melomane husband and their teenage daughter.  Nicole also lives in an adjacent building with her young son, which renders Marco's midnight dog–walking expeditions all the more efficient. 
 
The movie does the right thing by getting the least explicable (and perhaps most absurd) of the three vignettes out of the way first, more than suggesting how alienated the characters feel.  Eva seems to sleepwalk through her domestic tasks and local hospital shifts as a nurse, although we are never told how and why she takes up with the equally married Tomasz.  Their lovemaking, if one could call it that, is peppered with the usual hijinks that emotionally unattached people are supposed to do in bed.  The problem is that Eva is becoming increasingly fond of Tomasz while all he wants to do is take rather compromising pictures, and their practically anonymous and often wordless encounters recall another recent film with a similar story line.  But the downright weirdest element is the person whom Eva and Tomasz run into after carelessly deciding to be seen together in public, and how Eva subsequently addresses that situation.
 
The two other vignettes are more tightly intertwined, with another extrarelational affair as the fulcrum.  In the second part, Sonja, who does curious things to magazines in her job as a supermarket cashier, pretends to be pregnant to fend off the pleas of her familyobsessed Croatian boyfriend Marco.  What she doesn't know is that Marco may want to have a baby with her, but he has other urges that require attention elsewhere.  Perhaps then we shouldn't be surprised that Marco's favorite Croatian song, as he summarizes the lyrics for her, relates the story of a man who leaves his wife, becomes rich, loses everything, and then wants to come back and see her one last time.  There are some obvious turns and twists, such as when Sonja pretends to be asleep and then emerges, fully dressed, to follow Marco to his lover’s apartment.  It is also the only movie I have ever seen in which a toy giraffe is used as a hostage. 
 
The third movement chronicles the daily activities of a horrible excuse for a human being who doubles as the bellicose ex–husband of Marco's lover Nicole.  You will be happy to know that certain things one might expect in a lesser movie do not take place here, except for one critical coincidence towards the end that is a function of fate and comeuppance working in tandem.  A pale blue metaphorically reminiscent of infirmity or depression coats every scene, and Spielmann is not averse to headless shots exploring otherwise neglected parts of his characters.  Numerous moments that have no effect on plot events reveal flaws and strengths that can only result from close observation and a love for the vicissitudes of humankind.  If you are not interested in detail, this will not be enjoyable.  But if you find the smallest of facial ticks or half–swallowed sentences to be sources of insight, Antares, in its restrained eccentricities, may show you something new.

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