Making his directorial debut, penning the script and holding the starring role, Austrian actor Josef Hader has impressed festivals around the world with the dark comedy Wild Mouse – which has had its Australian premiere this week as part of the Sydney Film Festival.
The film stars Hader as Georg, a classical music critic who loses his position amongst budget cuts that are plaguing newspapers around the world – Fairfax here in Australia being no exception. This and mentions of IS on the radio make it clear this is a movie set in contemporary reality. It’s fair to say that Georg doesn’t take his retrenchment well, and embarks on a war against his now former boss Waller (Jörg Hartmann), while simultaneously going through a mid-life crisis for the ages. Some people buy a convertible, but Georg buys a gun, reconnects with a childhood bully (Georg Friedrich) and invests in a Wild Mouse roller coaster ride at the local carnival. I’m not sure what that says about the regressive state for the rest of us, but for Hader, he explores it in droves.
From the film’s opening scenes, which evoke the musicality and tone of the benchmark dark comedy Fargo, Wild Mouse carries with it a sardonic edge that makes the viewing experience equal parts pleasure and pain. Pain in the unnecessarily tense scenarios Georg puts himself and the audience in, exasperated by the character’s own frustrations, all the while carrying the expression of a deer staring into incoming headlights. And then we find pleasure through those same frustrations; a witty script and strong performances allowing us to laugh at Georg’s misfortunes, while never forgetting that his reality could be anyone’s – and that is really where the genius in this film is found. An ability to walk effortlessly between reality and the absurd, engaging the audience regardless if we empathise with Georg or not.
And it’s not just Georg who battles through this film. His younger wife, Frau (Pia Hierzegger), is very much the equal – facing her own issues with her career, and uncertainties over her future, her ability to start a family and her marriage. She mightn’t be running half naked through the snow – in the film’s fully fledged and unforgettable Cohen Brothers-esque moment – but she’s looking at the bottom of a wine bottle and spiralling in her own way.
Behind the lens, on the page, and in the development (or: unraveling) of his character, Heder has created an enjoyable film about a fairly unpalatable subject. The end of a job, the struggles of a marriage and the crises we face day by day as we spiral towards our impending end. Buoyed by engaging performances, Wild Mouse takes us down the rabbit hole of the modern mid-life breakdown, seemingly even more terrifying in the state of the modern world. Some people just can’t handle it – and at the end of the day, what else can we do but laugh?
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)