Content Note: intense homomisic violence and general homomisia (both shown critically), critical treatment of racism against muslims, bimisia
Mario (Thomas Prenn) is stuck in the little mountain village of Hochwald where he sticks out like a sore thumb – a flamboyant dancer, he really has no place in the conservative town. The only one who really seems to understand him is his best friend Lenz (Noah Saavedra) who escaped the village in pursuit of an acting career. He is back for a few days before heading to Rome where he wants to meet his agent. In an act of defiance, Mario joins him and they go to a gay bar. But while they are there, the gay club is attacked and many people die, including Lenz. Mario returns home, heartbroken, to find practically nothing but hostility in Hochwald. How can he go on like this?
Hochwald is really excellent queer cinema made in Austria. Fantastic setting, nicely set in scene and a very thoughtful approach to a very difficult topic. While I didn’t love every detail about it, I absolutely loved the film as a whole.
I was a little worried as the film is yet another instance that connects muslims to homomisia – the attackers on the gay club are muslims. But this is just the starting point for the film to examine the relationship catholic Austria has with its muslim population. We like to pretend that homomisia (and sexism, and what have you) is an issue of muslims that has nothing whatsoever to do with “real Austrians”. But the film shows clearly how deeply homomisic catholic Austria is, breaking up that binary. And when Mario finds refuge with Nadim (Josef Mohamed), an old friend who happens to be muslim, and his group in their mosque, things are opened up even further, as the film also makes clear that – surprise, surprise – muslims aren’t a monolith either and there are many different approaches and believes within islam as there are in catholicism.
That being said, there is an undercurrent here of “no matter what kind of spirituality you adhere to, the important thing is that you believe” and as an atheist, that made me a little uncomfortable. Fortunately, it was enough of a sidenote that I was able to ignore it. I had a harder time ignoring the fact that Lenz is, once again, the stereotype of a bi person who doesn’t have enough with just one person/can’t be faithful. It is a trope that is offensive and wrong and should just go and die already. It is softened here a little because Mario isn’t straight, either. It’s never made explicit if he has a particular label he uses for himself, but what we know for sure is that he is in love with Lenz and that he has also had sex with women.
But apart from these two points, I was really impressed with Hochwald. It is Romen’s debut as a director (although she has a lot of experience as an editor) which makes it even more of an achievement: an emotional film that is both topical and handles issues that we have been dealing with since what feels like forever.
With strong performances, a keen eye for scenery and settings, and, to make me completely happy, with dancing, Hochwald was one of the strongest discoveries of this year’s Viennale for me.