In 1974, Jack Unterweger (Johannes Krisch) kills a young girl. It’s not his first offence and his is found out pretty quickly. He uses the time in jail to read a lot and starts to write himself. His writing slowly garners notoriety and critical acclaim and his release 15 years later finally draws near. Jack has been exchanging letters with Susanne (Corinna Harfouch), a married architect who is obsessed with Jack and who provides him with an apartment upon his release. Jack is also in touch with journalist Marlies (Birgit Minichmayr) who opens the possibility for him to keep writing and to build his fame. But soon sex workers start dying again. Is it just coincidence, or is Jack to blame?
It is pretty much impossible to grow up Austrian and not know who Jack Unterweger is. And it’s not the first time I saw a fictional take on his life and case. Scharang now tries to give Unterweger a fresh start with this character study. While I don’t think she always succeedes, her attempts are nevertheless worth watching.
Unterweger is not only notorious for his crimes, but also notorious for being notorious. The stories that are told about him are as much about whether he is actually guilty of the killings of sex workers later in his life, or whether his first murder conviction made him the best fall guy, as they are about why he managed to stir so many people: he was a ladies’ man and women were very much attracted to him, but he also managed to beguile the Austrian intelligentsia regardless of gender who petitioned for his early release and helped stylize him as an intellectual, writing dandy.
Scharang tells us with the tagline of the film to forget all of that, all we ever heard about Unterweger and tries to assess his character anew. Unfortunately, though, her film is so disjointed and impressionistic that you can’t possibly understand it if you don’t know the case and Scharang also doesn’t leave the well-trodden narrative path: her story, too, revolves around Unterweger’s attractiveness (to women) and his guilt.
It isn’t interesting to question Unterweger’s guilt. I always thought that it was absolutely clear that he killed those women. And it’s not that surprising that women would be drawn to an intense man with a bit of notoriety who shows his desire(s) openly (simplifying a bit here). It feels like a wasted opportunity that Scharang doesn’t ask new questions about the case (like for example about the relationship between violence and intellectual endeavors, two phenomena people seem to think are mutually exclusive), especially since she doesn’t answer any of the old ones. I would have liked her taking a definite stance. You can always disagree when somebody has an opinion, but I’m really not a fan of (attempted) neutrality. Questions that could have been asked:
That being said, though, and going into the film having a crude idea about the case, there was a lot in the film that worked very well, which might be partly to do with the fact that, for once, it’s a woman who wonders about what makes Unterweger attractive to women and not a man (who can never help, apparently, sounding at least a little impressed and idolizing). Another part of this lies with Johannes Krisch, who was absolutely stunning as Unterweger. Also stunning: the rest of the ast, the camera work and the wonderful soundtrack.
Jack might not answer anything, but it does so in perfect style and quality. I know this review might not seem like it, but I did like it a lot.
Summarizing: Good stuff.