Claudia is a young mother who lives with her son, her mother and her brother in a small apartment in Vienna. Claudia’s brother has a job, she and her mother live off benefits. Claudia talks about finishing school, getting a job, getting her own apartment. But when the question is whether she should do it now or tomorrow, the answer is always tomorrow.
Jetzt oder morgen perfectly captures how difficult, downright impossible, it is to find your feet from a precarious position. It does so with respect for Claudia and her family and with a sense of intimacy that is as beautiful as it is important.
In Austria, we have a pretty good social net – but one that has been consistently weakened by rightwing, neoliberal politics in the past few decades, so the remaining support system is all but a shell anymore, filled with ideas about how “all these people” are happy to live off the state, don’t have ambitions, and need even more precarity to be motivated to work. And in Jetzt oder morgen, we see what this hateful perspective does to the people who rely on receiving benefits: it utterly immobilizes and demoralizes them.
I have worked my fair share with (children in) families with similar issues as we see Claudia and her family having. This made watching the film on the one hand very special to me, but also made it difficult for me to turn my professional gaze off. So there was this undercurrent there for me, looking at Claudia’s son who we see growing from kindergardener to school kid: If he didn’t have and ADHD diagnosis at the time of shooting, he probably has one now (and most likely wouldn’t actually deserve it if he had a more supportive surrounding – which is not a criticism of Claudia, but the general system). In any case, he was very right to be afraid of school (he says in the film that he is): he will be lucky if he finishes the first high school diploma on the first try, or at all, and he will leave school convinced that he isn’t worth it, that he is incapable. He might be lucky enough to find one of the ten teachers in Vienna working in the area who aren’t completely burned out and still care for children, which might improve his chances. But most likely in ten years, he will be exactly where his mother is now, and that is nowhere at all, with no perspective of change.
It’s a depressing situation, but fortunately the film includes also the moments where they can find joy in and with each other. Additionally, the director is very present in the film herself (she mentioned that she knew Claudia personally for a while before the shoot), unable not to empathize and unable not to try to help somehow – just like the audience. It is a crucial element that keeps the audience from dispassionately observing or turning the film into poverty porn.
That being said, it is a little heartbreaking, watching Claudia singing Miracle again and again. Because in our broken system, she really needs a miracle to get out of this situation – and all she can do is sing for it to the people around her, equally in need of of a miracle. But what the system has beaten out of them is any real belief or confidence in their own abilities and worth. Hopefully watching this situation, this heartbreak will turn to anger – the first step to changing the system. It certainly did for me.
Summarizing: Excellent, touching and critical documentary.