BEIRUT: Anyone who frequents fun fairs knows all about The Wild Mouse. The name derives from the series of jarring turns that make the experience of riding this compact roller coaster more mouselike. That experience seems to reflect why writer-director Josef Hader chose the name as the title of his debut feature, screening in Beirut as part of the European Film Festival.
Hader’s comedy tells the story of Georg (Hader again), a middle-aged culture desk editor at an Austria daily. The audience is introduced to him while he’s having coffee with a much younger colleague.
He encourages her to resist the editor-in-chief’s efforts to pressure her to take up the television beat, saying he’d tried to force him to write about television too.
Later the same day at a meeting with his boss Waller (Joerg Hartmann), Georg is sacked. Waller, who is both younger and German, explains that Georg’s simply paid too much for the paper to continue employing him.
“I’ve been doing this job for 25 years,” Georg replies, “Is there no other solution?”
The boss puts on a sympathetic face and tells him that times are so bad that, for all he knows, he may be sacked himself.
“They’ll never fire you,” Georg spits back. “You’re the cowardly little s--- who does whatever management wants.”
No other solution is discussed and Georg empties his desk. Rather than going home to share the bad news with his wife, he goes to one last concert. The balance of the film is devoted to the fallen critic’s shambolic plans to take vengeance against his German boss. His ad hoc efforts to punish “The Man” are ridiculous and usually hilarious.
“The Wild Mouse” is the other feature at this year’s EFF that’s been situated amid the rarefied world of art in contemporary Europe – the other being Ruben Oestlund’s much-celebrated “The Square.”
Each film is a perceptively satirical and well-acted comedy of manners centering on a male protagonist. Obsessive types might feel compelled to compare the two but it’s more useful to note how subtle differences in subject matter have contributed to making Hader’s work markedly different from that of Oestlund’s.
While “The Square” is set within the Olympian stratosphere of contemporary art, “The Wild Mouse” resides on the fringes of contemporary classical music. Oestlund’s hero is the in-house curator of a Stockholm contemporary art museum, while Hader’s anti-hero is a pompous music critic at a Vienna broadsheet.
Curators and critics are equally likely to be egoistic idiots, of course, but while bluechip contemporary art museums are irrigated by a defiantly solvent art market, newspapers are (thanks to print costs and cheap online opinion) withering in a long, perhaps permanent, drought.
Both films may be useful to future scholars interested in the political economy of cultural production and dissemination under late capitalism.
Since Georg is ejected from the fringes of that world early on, though, unemployed pipe-fitters and underemployed university grads may find the comedy of Hader’s film more entertaining.
Georg is still somehow married to the younger Johanna (Pia Hierzegger) – possible, perhaps, because she’s a professional therapist.
Johanna appears to have been happily childless until she changed her mind at the age of 40.
The couple’s efforts to make babies provide the main subplot of the film, a task that’s complicated because Georg can’t bring himself to tell his wife he’s unemployed.
He leaves the house every morning as usual and, without a destination, ends up at a park, where he kills time on fair rides.
That’s how he meets Erich (Georg Friedrich), an unemployed jobber.
Georg remembers him because, when they were in school together, Erich used beat him up all the time.
Erich’s casual despair provides a reality check for Georg, and Erich’s relationship with Nicoletta (Crina Semciuc), the Romanian girlfriend with whom he shares no common language, is a convenient foil for Georg and Johanna.
Anyway, Georg decides to lend him a wad of euros so he can lease a rundown fair ride, The Wild Mouse, effectively becoming his business partner. In return, Erich swears to help Georg avenge himself against Waller. One of the options Georg has to consider in this regard is a beefy gent of immigrant decent (the owner of The Wild Mouse), who shrugs that he’ll damage Waller as much as Georg wants, if the price is right.
The casting’s unfortunate for the cliches it perpetuates about Europe’s migrant crisis, but the thug’s role is counterbalanced, in a way, by Sebastian (Denis Moschitto), another character of migrant decent. He’s a client of Johanna’s who proves to be closer to Georg’s story than anyone might imagine.
Wild mice travel in small circles.
“The Wild Mouse” will scurry once more Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Metropolis-Sofil. For more, see www.metropoliscinema.net.