Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia, sexualized violence
Eismayer (Gerhard Liebmann) is known for being the toughest educating officer in the Austrian military. His drills are feared, and he often gets sent the recruits who seem to need the most taking down – like Falak (Luka Dimić) who is older than most of the men who have to do their compulsory military service. He is outspoken, he is openly gay and he is also a damn good soldier. Eismayer finds himself drawn to Falak, and having to confront his own homosexuality, so far well hidden beneath his tough exterior.
Eismayer is a difficult film in a difficult position about a difficult man. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do this difficulty justice all the time.
Eismayer is based on a real person, and he and his – by now official partner – Falak were involved in the making of this film. As was the Austrian military who supported the film, obviously trying to use the opportunity to give themselves an image upgrade. And Wagner’s film obliges. By the end of the film, you will go away with the impression that homomisia is a thing of the past in the military, solved forever by the official ceremony the real Eismayer and Falak had in the military station, wearing gala uniforms. Showing homomisia as a thing of the past that only a handful of dinosaurs who will soon leave the military still cling to is problematic to say the least. And it is definitely not accurate.
Add to this that Eismayer’s reputation is far from just “tough but fair”. There are rumors that he actually pushed recruits to suicide, that he was cruel and sadistic in training. The film sanitizes him to a certain degree, especially in his pursuit of Falak. He was his superior officer after all, and the first “romantic” moment in the film happens when Eismayer invites Falak to his home under a pretense (that he should help set up a TV), keeps him there until he can’t go back to the baracks because they are closed; and finally Eismayer starts touching Falak while the later is asleep on his couch. This is all kinds of wrong, red flags flying of everywhere, but the film is so busy with showing this apparently softer side of Eismayer, it fails to consider any of the creepiness inherent in the moment.
That the film works at all is thanks to an electrifying performance by Liebmann. I happened to go see the film with somebody who actually was a recruit under Eismayer and he was deeply impressed by Liebmann’s accuracy of portrayal. More importantly though, Liebmann captures a harshness about the man so that even his most vulnerable moments have something aggressive. It’s fascinating to watch – and very realistic. Opposite him, Dimić has an absolute lightness and ease that sharpens the contrast between the two men and make their encounters deeply compelling.
The film is well-made, tightly paced and with a good sense for scenes. I just wish, these two had played in a film that allowed itself to be more critical – critical of the military, critical of the way this relationship started, critical of Eismayer himself. But for that, the film would have needed more distance from its subjects.
Summarizing: Not bad, but definitely difficult and not always successful.