Der letzte Tanz
Director: Houchang Allahyari
Writer: Houchang Allahyari, Daniel Kundi, August Staudenmayer
Cast: Daniel Sträßer, Erni Mangold, Janina Schauer, Doina Weber, Viktor Gernot, Stefano Bernardin, Fritz Karl
Seen on: 16.02.2015
Karl (Daniel Sträßer) is surprisingly arrested one morning, to the horror and surprise of his mother. He won’t say a word, but slowly it becomes clear what happened over the past few months: Having just finished university in Germany, Karl had to start his compulsory civilian service in Vienna, which was scheduled at a geriatric hospital. Shortly before he started, he reconnected with Nathalie (Janina Schauer), an old class mate, and they started dating. But Karl remained distant with pretty much everybody but one of his patients, Julia Ecker (Erni Mangold). And that relationship soon crosses professional boundaries.
Der letzte Tanz takes on a difficult topic and has garnered quite a few awards in Austria, but personally I wasn’t very happy with how they handled it. Both regarding content and regarding style.
I went into the film believing that it would be about a young man and an old woman falling in love with each other, and in many parts that’s what the film feels like. But that is not what it is: it’s a film about rape from the point of view of the rapist and it never quite manages to condemn his actions, which makes it feel like it’s actually condoning them.
But here are the facts: Julia (Erni Mangold was fantastic) is diagnosed with dementia, and even though Karl (why they cast a German as an Austrian is beyond me – his accent annoyed me the entire film long) believes that she’s been misdiagnosed, there is at least one scene where she clearly isn’t all there and believes she’s somebody else. Also, Julia is clearly dependent on Karl who is not only her caretaker, but whom she believes to be her only ally in a world full of nurses against her. The night before Karl is transferred, she uses the only thing as a bargaining chip she has to convince him to stay (even though it isn’t his decision): herself. And Karl takes advantage of the situation and of her: he sleeps with a mentally unstable person who is dependent on him and if that isn’t rape, I don’t know what is.
There is the main nurse who eyes Karl’s relationship with Julia susipiciously, and finally arranges his transfer, then catches him in the act. She is the only one in the film who calls a spade a spade and has Karl arrested for rape. But the entire film paints her as unnecessarily strict, cold and bossy (as opposed to Karl’s sensitive, intuitive personality) and that calls her entire judgement into question for the audience (if you read the imdb plot description, the contributor even suggests that she acted out of jealousy and destroyed an epic love story).
I don’t know if that was the filmmakers’ intention, but it ended up firmly on Karl’s side, not on Julia’s or even, heaven forbid, the head nurse’s. And that was the wrong side to take in this film.