Published Sep 09, 2013Considering how intricate and structurally surprising Revanche was and the uncompromising nature and frankness of Antares, Götz Spielmann's eagerly anticipated follow-up, October November, feels surprisingly limp.
On its own, this character-driven tale of familial reconciliation works, in a modest sense, assessing how unspoken, unrealized signifiers comprise someone's basic make-up and influence their relationships throughout their lifetime. It's just that, despite the thematic similarities to his previous efforts, the dramatic heft isn't as prevalent, making this low-key drama a curiosity unto itself.
Initially, October November is presented as a bifurcated narrative, following two sisters living very different lives. Sonja (Nora von Waldstätten), an emotionally withdrawn actress living in the city, revels in celebrity and the resulting perpetual performance of her craft, trying to make the most of a flimsily defined character in a low-grade thriller. Meanwhile, older sister Verena (Ursula Strauss) takes care of the family business — a rural mountainside inn suffering economic woes — and their ailing father, sleeping with the local doctor (Sebastian Koch) whenever she can get away from her loyal, sweet-natured husband and curious son.
That both women lead lives teetering on the brink of discussion isn't just a coincidence. Once their father suffers a heart-attack — a visually unique sequence where the perspective shifts to that of a man disconnected from his dying body — they come together, exchanging pleasantries and veiled passive-aggressiveness, which is exacerbated when the doctor takes a liking to Sonja.
For obvious reasons, we can appreciate why Verena might be jealous of her younger sister, who escaped the family home and sought out her dreams. But what isn't quite as clear is why Sonja is so guarded and cold; we don't get a full sense of her struggle for individuality, professionally assuming the identities of others as a mode of avoiding introspection, until the sisters start to divulge their secrets. These eventual reveals, most of which unravel organically, without any sort of contrived speechifying or showy melodrama, also contextualize why Verena cheats on a loyal husband with a man that knows him and her son extremely well.
Spielmann (having already crafted a traditional mystery) is exploring the fragile nature of the ego, making a whodunit that stems from the human condition, rather than a representational metaphor. The reason October November feels so subdued and slight is that it's concerned only with understanding and interpreting what it is that causes people to push those that care about them away. It's this simplicity — this desire to assess the basic impetus for human conflict and defensiveness — that quietly holds a deeper understanding of what it means to live collectively.
As framed with sombre earth tones and impeccably framed compositions, Spielmann's latest drama isn't minor or insignificant, so much as it's a mature evolution for a director working towards simplifying his auteur thesis. While this tale of two sisters finding common ground is unlikely to make waves on the global cinematic landscape, it does suggest that bigger things are coming from this intriguing Austrian director. (Coop99)