EIFF 2017: Animals (Tiere) (2017)
Birgit Minichmayr and Philipp Hochmair play Anna and Nick, an Austrian couple who have to travel across the border to Switzerland so that the latter can take up a job as a chef in the town of Vevey, while the former has some space in their mountain chalet to write her latest novel (about a wife who kills her husband). While they are away they decide to rent out their apartment to a woman named Mischa (Mona Petri).
During their lengthy car journey, the pair keep themselves occupied with a word association game involving shouting out animals whose names begin with certain letters of the alphabet. However, in the midst of one of these games they crash into a sheep. Several hours later Anna wakes up in the hospital with her head bandaged. When they get to their new home she begins to experience an array of inexplicable hallucinations - such as imagining a bird has flown into their kitchen, then killed itself by bashing against the wall.
Mischa, meanwhile, has ended up with her own head in a bandage as a result of tripping over a skateboard in the hallway of the apartment building. She begins to experience strange occurrences too, the first being the woman in the apartment directly above her, named Andrea, committing suicide by dropping down onto the pavement below. The latter’s husband, on hearing the devastating news, heads home and knocks on Mischa’s door. When she opens up and he sees her, he is convinced that Mischa is his still-living wife standing there before him.
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Tiere is a surreal puzzle of a film, one that has been compared to David Lynch’s pieces of esotericism. While there’s a lack of conventional logic in the many events and twists that occur throughout, things do seem to click on an abstract and fantastical level. While there are no clear answers for everything that goes on here there are undeniable patterns and parallels that point to specific notions - as the occurrences within Anna’s life are, in their own way, mirrored within Mischa’s. There are themes of distrust, infidelity, and the resultant difficulties in ascertaining truth from the imagined, presented as ongoing threads through the picture. On the other hand, the film’s ending (which I won’t spoil) unexpectedly takes us outside of the paranoid atmosphere into a totally new territory.
As the name suggests there is a recurring motif of animals here: sheep, birds and a talking black cat (really). The animals are a direct reference back to the association game played in the car. The act of game-playing between husband and wife seems to be one more loaded with underlying tension than the mere banal time-passer it theoretically should be, with each one calling the other out for respective violations of rules. The later whisperings of the black cat, in turn, feed Anna’s distrust of Nick.
It’s a film that requires some thinking outside of the box, but also a visually-impressive one with some atmospherically lensed compositions: a nightmarishly red road tunnel is one particularly memorable example, as is a dramatic tracking shot into the oppressively grey bowels of the restaurant where Nick has taken up employment. It’s also blackly funny on occasion, and ends up becoming effortlessly enjoyable if you just go with its distinctive flow and let its dream journal symbolism bury itself into your subconsciousness.
Runtime: 95 mins
Dir: Greg Zglinski
Script: Jörg Kalt, Greg Zglinski
Starring: Birgit Minichmayr, Philipp Hochmair, Mona Petri, Mehdi Nebbou, Michael Ostrowski