Credit: Coproduction Office
by Morris Yang Featured Film Spotlight

Rimini — Ulrich Seidl

October 18, 2022

Rimini possesses a frigid sociological potency whose disparate elements capture a stratified generation’s cultural and libidinal imaginary.

The curtain doesn’t quite fall in wintry Rimini, this latest nondescript and non-place in life’s long march toward certain death. In Ulrich Seidl’s latest feature, the titular city serves as a liminal space of paradox, between sorrow and amnesia, its damp horizons both unmoored from identity and burdened with the weight of the unresolved past. Set off the Adriatic coast in northern Italy, and suspended in its seemingly eternal blizzard, Rimini tracks the has-been figure of Richie Bravo (Michael Thomas), a pop-star of rock and ballads now primed past middle age, sporting mass, alcoholism, and cynical ennui. More rivetingly, the film calls into question his “has-been” status: returning, for a brief reunion, to Austria to lay their dead mother to rest, Richie and his brother reminisce over wine and the old days, recall their infirm father briefly from his care home, and retread their separate roads once more. But was Richie Bravo ever? His claim to fame — a house filled with memorabilia, a hermetic obsession with lost love, a lifetime singing in lounges — looks less certain by the minute; his name, the vacuous hot thing of the nineties and noughties, claims even less now, being claimed instead by a mysterious woman who calls herself his estranged daughter.

Seidl’s trenchant portrait of a tragic figure celebrates its own unflinching gaze, courtesy of a director whose societal vivisections come with chilling precision and calculated misanthropy. Shot with documentarian veneer, Rimini intrudes upon Richie’s daily movements, gradually disclosing and simultaneously obscuring their purposefulness. He visits several women for sex, but their relationships with him are fraught with the unspoken; they pay him after the deed, and yet it is in Richie where desperation most distressingly shines through. When his daughter demands money as compensation for years of neglect and destitution, his haphazard reaction — first denial, then despondency — says it all of a man lost to loneliness and pitiful bravado: crooning maudlin tunes for the temporary, nocturnal pockets of tourists (have some of them become permanent?); trudging through empty foyers and ghost towns; haggling over small dough while leasing out souvenirs of a younger self to those as fanatic about him as he is; and mired in agonizing stasis, awaiting the improbable coming of spring.

Arguably, all this is trademark Seidl: a tad too clinical, a pinch too predictable at times, given that the absence of further backstory — hinted at with Richie’s brief encounter with his brother Ewald (Georg Friedrich), and likely to be explored in an upcoming companion film, Sparta — frustrates attempts to elevate Rimini from caricature. Especially so for the filmmaker’s acolytes, who might reject its mellowed, almost adulterated causticness, but also a concern for his neophytes, more susceptible to habitual pigeonholing within a larger corpus of Austrian miserabilism. This caricature, nonetheless, possesses a frigid sociological potency whose disparate elements capture a stratified generation’s cultural and libidinal imaginary, typically white, male, middle-class, and anchored to little beyond the bygone echoes of social eminence and utopian intimacy. Seidl’s unspooling of these discomfiting taboos remains acute, though it’s not simply tethered to the viewer’s abject sense of schadenfreude. Instead, a sobering, existential realization is reached through Rimini’s mirthless lens, of the everyman’s winter as a negation and bleak mirror of his lust for life, once vivaciously lived.

Published as part of Berlin Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.