Outfest LA: If you like your existential angst set against a techno soundtrack, Nevrland offers both.
In his first acting role, Simon Frühwirth makes an impressive debut. As Jakob, Frühwirth plays a recent high school grad who lives at home with his father and grandfather and is pondering some big questions about life and death and his place in the world.
Shot in Vienna, writer/director Gregor Schmidinger conceived the film while taking classes online at UCLA. His feature is mostly in German with subtitles, but transitions to English as Jakob meets and befriends a hunky but mysterious older (he’s 26) man online. Employing minimal yet natural dialogue, the director threads a compelling narrative that hinges on what’s left unsaid and the interior lives of his characters. True, his narrative runs out of steam toward the end, but the director’s skill at evoking suspense and emotional depth from his cast (along with evocative cinematography by Jo Molitoris and a pulsating EDM soundtrack) is likely to keep viewers engaged.
Frühwirth looks like he could have stepped out of an X/Y magazine layout with his close-cropped hair, ectomorphic presence and haunted gaze. But it’s that same physicality and guileless performance that allows audiences to voyeuristically watch his life unfold. The first impressions of Jakob are endearing, as he silently cuts his elderly grandfather’s food and later helps him undress for bed.
Jakob retires to his own room, where he does what every teenage boy does, by logging on to check out some porn. While doing so, he scrolls through online cam-chats. One of them catches his eye, although it’s basically just a headless torso. But oh, what a torso it is. When the object of his attentions initiates a conversation, Jakob responds in a guarded, laconic manner typical of such encounters. Finally Jakob asks to see the stranger’s face, he agrees — provided Jakob show more than his.More From Metrosource
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Jakob removes his shirt to reveal large darkened patch of skin covering part of his chest. It could almost be mistaken for a tattoo, albeit a rather bland one, but it turns out to be a birthmark. True to his word, the headless torso shifts the camera to reveal his face, and his looks are as appealing as his enviable body. His name is Kristjan, and he’s a 26-year-old artist (played by Paul Forman), but the nine-year disparity in their ages seems a non-issue, or if anything, a bonus. Just as they’re establishing a rapport, the connection is lost.
Caught in that nebulous stage between high school and college, Jakob takes a job at a slaughterhouse where his father works. The images of carcasses being bisected, hosed and cleaned for mass consumption are jarring and disturbing. But it does help paint the portrait of an emotionally shut down teen trying to figure out his place in the world. His sexual proclivities appear to be private and certainly nothing he’s shared with his father. While at work, Jakob collapses in the shower, prompting a medical scare and an MRI which rules out a medical problem, but confirms that his issues are psychological. He starts taking medication and seeing a psychiatrist. Eventually while riding the subway, he crosses paths with the handsome stranger he met online. But they’re both in transit and there’s no way for either of them to make contact.
Jakob goes back online in search of his mystery crush. When Jakob wakes, he finds that the object of his interest is online, engaged in a solo boxing workout, waiting for him to wake up. This time, they exchange numbers and Kristjan invites him to an underground party. Jakob is unsure, but winds up going, but it’s just a blur of pounding techno and strobing lights. The two never actually make contact and Jakob returns home to find that his grandfather has died.
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The not wholly unexpected passing casts a pall on his already bleak existence. Jakob reaches out to Kristjan and they meet at an art museum. Kristjan says he comes here when he needs to think and recharge. Kristjan takes Jakob back to his place, a super cool loft that suggests Kristjan makes a nice living for himself. Jakob asks to see some of Kristjan’s artwork, but when Kristjan turns the camera on Jakob, he has a meltdown and Kristjan is taken aback by the severity of his response.
When Jakob calms down, they finally consummate their affair. Unfortunately, the narrative unravels from there as Kristjan offers Jakob his drug of choice. Jakob accepts, but once it wears off, Jakob admits that he merely blacked out. He and Kristjan venture out into the night, and they then return to the underground club, where Jakob finally seems to let go and dance. Suddenly, Jakob succumbs to the hallucinatory trip we were expecting. There’s a torrent of increasingly surreal visions amidst the backdrop of pounding techno. It’s a shame really, because this gifted and promising director could go far with a more fleshed-out and satisfying resolution.
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Last modified: July 25, 2019