Sep 10, 2012

Die Ausgesperrten

As far as made-for-television films are concerned, you probably won’t find a greater, more biting, and sickly sardonic one than the fairly obscure Austrian TV-movie Die Ausgesperrten (1982) aka The Excluded directed by Franz Novotny and based on the novel of the same written by the terribly pessimistic and nihilistic Nobel Prize winner Elfride Jelinek (The Piano Teacher, Lust). Also co-writing the screenplay and starring as one of the film's characters in her sole acting role to date, there is no doubt Jelinek certainly gave her ‘seal of approval’ to the makers of Die Ausgesperrten, but while the book mainly focuses on the characters contemplative thoughts, the film merely captures their everyday words and deeds. As an Austrian of ½ Jewish ancestry and lifelong committed feminist and card-carrying communist, Jelinek is internationally notorious for her anti-nazi and anti-bourgeois themes as they act as a crucial and innate quality of her work and the film Die Ausgesperrten is no exception. Following two seemingly well-mannered yet unsavory and sadistic siblings and their ‘recruited’ friends (two of whom are ironically named after pacifistic anti-nazi resistance ‘fighters’ Sophia and Hans Scholl of die Weiße Rose fame) as they frantically and regretfully ‘come-of-age’ in late 1950s Vienna, Die Ausgesperrten is a cinematic work that unsentimentally dwells on Austria’s National Socialist past and the irreparable affects it had on the post-WWII generation. Having a crippled and thoroughly sadomasochistic ex-SS officer as a father and a servile mother that ignores his blatantly abusive behavior against the entire family, the L'enfant terrible teens of Die Ausgesperrten take reactionary revenge against society by stealing, vandalizing, and even killing around the cosmopolitan city they call home. Curiously, Elfride Jelinek’s real-life father was a Czech Jew who remained unscathed during the Nazi era due to his talents as chemist, so one can only speculate whether or not he acted as an inspiration for the distinctly debauched father in Die Ausgesperrten. With a strikingly swarthy, Semite-like appearance on the level of aesthetic absurdity, it is quite perverse yet devilishly ribald to watch the father as he fondly reminisces over brutally raping countless Jewesses as a SS man as if he were the vaudevillian equivalent of Amon Goeth. In fact, throughout the entirety of Die Ausgesperrten, there is not a single character that would have made for the ideal Aryan poster boy, which was almost certainly a conscious decision made by the makers of the film. They may hate the Nazis and their parents, but the siblings of Die Ausgesperrten – being dedicated nihilists with violent anarchic proclivities – are certainly their father’s kids as especially testified by the film’s singularly brutal and marvelously macabre ending.

Being a doomed generation, at least in the metaphysical sense, the kinky kids of Die Ausgesperrten get their demagoguery kicks by engaging in loveless fucking in high school bathrooms, running over fellow teenagers with cars, brutally beating bourgeois gentlemen, and dreaming of America in a less than romantic fashion. Austria may not have a glorious future but it has an infamous past that acts as a foreboding reminder of the characters unpleasant birthright as a defeated people with a bloodstained history. Beginning during the year 1942, the turning point of the Second World War, with a scene of unimpressed SS officers looking bored to death as they view an anti-Semitic play featuring the father “Otto” playing a Rabbi and wearing a XXXL prosthetic hook-nose, Die Ausgesperrten immediately sets the tone for what is one of the most snidely comical and mirthfully misanthropic films ever made. Jumping ahead to the year 1959 in Vienna, Otto is now missing a leg, most of his hair, and his dignity, but at least his still has his dark sense of humor, which he passes on to his two cultured yet curiously callous children Peter (Paulus Manker) and Anna (Ursula Knobloch). In part, the behavior of the two turbulent teens somewhat resembles that of 12-year-old protagonist Antoine Doinel from François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) had the boy gone on to mature into a machinating maniac with an antipathy for all things relating to love and family. Forget the amazingly aberrant Aryan children of Village of the Damned (1960), the conniving kids of Die Ausgesperrten are the real children of the damned. Somewhat attempting to wear a mask of sanity among the general public (in between assaulting/vulgarizing/burglarizing them), arrogant anti-hero Peter has no qualms about announcing to his compatriots that “crime is pure will,” as if he is a Nietzschean of the anarchic-libertine Georges Bataille variety. In the public arena, Anna is a bit more forward than her brother, proclaiming to her priggish teacher (played by Jelink herself in an ostensibly ironic and humorous role) that, “The human has to give himself to those extreme actions commonly considered crimes or choose death.” Indeed, as the days pass and their father becomes all the more bestial in his sexual torture of the mother, the teens further embrace their pigheaded philosophy of active apostasy, of which the older Nazi generation has no understanding. In one particularly telling scene, a victim of the torrid teens calls them, “Goddamn surrealists!” as if he is on the brink of spewing a Nazi diatribe about the connection between Communism/Judaism and degenerate art.  It is only at the end of the film that anti-hero Peter interrogates his mother about his father Otto's behavior that he finally transcends nihilism and takes serious and decisive action in regard to his family's certainly uncertain fate.

Predating and ultimately anticipating the thematically brutal and nihilistic and aesthetically grim films of Austrian auteur filmmaker’s Michael Haneke (who later directed an adaptation of Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher), Gerald Kargl (Angst), and Paulus Manker (who incidentally plays the lead “Peter”), Die Ausgesperrten, despite its ridiculously obscure and neglected status even in its own nation of origin, is assuredly one of the most important works of post-WWII Austrian (and German-speaking) cinema. Not unsurprisingly, Paulus Manker would prove to be just as competent as a director as an actor with Weiningers Nacht (1990) aka Weininger’s Last Night, a film about one of Vienna’s most important and tragic intellectual figures, and The Moor’s Head (1995) aka Der Kopf des Mohren, a work quite comparable to Die Ausgesperrten that follows the slow but steady and shocking disintegration of an Austrian middle-class family. Although similar in theme to a lot of Michael Haneke’s films, Die Ausgesperrten – with its furiously farcical tone – is ultimately more palatable yet demanding than most of the Austrian filmmaker’s cinematic works. That being said, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to state that it is quite improbable that the films of Haneke and Manker would exist, at least in their present form, without the crucial influence of Die Ausgesperrten; a work that is quite arguably the greatest TV-movie ever made, at least in the German-speaking world. Undoubtedly, Die Ausgesperrten did for Austrian cinema what the cinematic works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, and Volker Schlöndorff did for German cinema; giving a voice to ‘The Third Generation’; the Hitlerite era’s unwanted, discontented, and ill-fated progeny. Although considerably less well known and critically revered, Die Ausgesperrten is most assuredly Austria’s ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, but unlike the spoiled American youth of James Dean’s generation, Hitler’s spiritual grandchildren have something to be truly embittered and unruly about. 

-Ty E

No comments: