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IMPORT EXPORT

Director: ULRICH SEIDL

AUSTRIA • 2 007 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 141 MIN


A STARTLING, PROVOCATIVE JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF POST-EASTERN BLOC DARKNESS, THIS UNFLINCHING DRAMA FROM MAVERICK AUSTRIAN DOCUMENTARIST ULRICH SEIDL — THE SUBJECT OF AN IFI RETROSPECTIVE THIS MONTH —IS CERTAIN TO STIR UP DEBATE.
Does Seidl take his scenes of sexual degradation too far? Is he exploiting the non-professional geriatric patients in his cast? ‘Life is unpleasant’ says Seidl, which proves to be no understatement as his film’s story shifts focus between Olga, a Ukrainian nurse unable to make ends meet on her meagre wages, who ventures to Austria where a series of demoralising carer jobs await, and Paul, a young Austrian who’s fired from his job as a security guard and finds himself delivering clapped-out vending machines in Eastern Europe alongside his sleazy father-in-law. The result is a series of tellingly bleak encounters unfolding on real locations, and shot by top U.S. cameraman Ed Lachman (who’s worked with Soderbergh, Haynes, Altman et al) with an eye for bitter absurdity.
Seidl’s frequently been accused of misanthropy, yet it could equally be argued that his very lack of sentimentality marks a pointed refusal to soften his view of an unjust and unlovely world where the iniquities depicted here continue day by day. In that sense his approach is as steely as his countryman Michael Haneke, but what’s significant in Import Export is surely the way the central characters try to hold on to their humanity — Olga displays humbling compassion for her elderly hospital patients, and even Paul tries to remain untainted by the vicissitudes around him. Amid a world of encroaching darkness, the light still flickers in one of the year’s must-see films. — Trevor Johnston.

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