A directorial debut so strong that it was selected for both FIDMarseille’s First Film section and main International Competition, Austrian entry Beatrix is a major discovery, the work of two directors and an actor at the outset of their careers already with a defined perspective and a deft understanding of cinematic language. Though all involved have worked in the film industry and with each other in various capacities, Beatrix marks the first instance of Lilith Kraxner and Milena Czernovsky co-directing a film together, with their star, performance artist Eva Sommer (who was awarded Best Actress in the First Film category), also newly acquainted with the feature-length medium. A new configuration for this team and likely their most involved undertaking to date, but one wouldn’t so easily discern this watching Beatrix, an intimate, plain-spoken film, obviously the creation of artists thinking on a higher level.
Not dissimilar to other international competitor Outside Noise in the broadest sense (this year’s FIDMarseille was really well curated in that way), Beatrix pursues images that cinema often fails to hold space for, the toiling and bouts of boredom that the medium is usually thought of as an escape from. But as Kraxner & Czernovsky quickly demonstrate, this lack of depiction creates a faux taboo around certain images, opening up the possibility of making the mundane thrilling. Suddenly, the act of cleaning an oven or shaving an armpit takes on an intrigue one wouldn’t assume of such domestic chores, given life via gorgeous 16mm cinematography and inventive framing choices. What little plot there is essentially stands as an excuse to move the title character through these sorts of set pieces, following this young woman’s listless summer days, crashing at a big house by herself with the occasional visitor stopping by to briefly disrupt the tedium of these slow days. Kraxner, Czernovsky, and Sommer wrestle with the idea of how to depict the undepicted, particularly how to capture those moments where we are totally unobserved and vulnerable without indulging cinema’s tendency toward voyeurism. Sommer’s performance is essential to the project in this regard, entirely improvised though resembling something much more workshopped, a la the films of Maren Ade. She is able to negotiate the camera’s gaze and the need to achieve a sense of naturalism, essentially performing a non-performance. Kraxner & Czernovsky build on their actor’s work savvily, confronting the audience with her vulnerability, often presenting Sommer nude in the casual fashion one adopts when home alone, creating brilliant tension between camera, subject, and audience. Beatrix instantly establishes Kraxner, Czernovsky, and Sommer as major artists, pursuing lofty, risky ideas with verve and ingenuity — so exciting to see in a debut feature!