A Lax Attitude Can be Fatal – Life Guidance (London Film Festival Review)

Rating:

For Life Guidance, Ruth Mader’s first feature in fourteen years since the frustratingly unwieldy Struggle, she again follows the well-worn path of Orwell Avenue. It’s hardly surprising given the recent surge in global political madness and daily self-eclipsing technological advances that writers start dusting off the Ballards and Bradburys, dystopia seemingly closer which each passing day.

This time around, Mader depicts a near-future Capitalist utopia, where private industry is extended to the individuals of the populous. Each person is required to consistently better themselves, a legal requirement to reach optimum potential. School children recite self-improvement songs conducted by company goons in garish jumpers which would give Euro 96 era David Seaman fashion anxiety.

The problem facing our main man, highly successful city worker Alexander Dworsky played with an unsettling lack of emotion by Fritz Carl, is that he is satisfied with his lot. This is the Life Guidance equivalent of telling your Supreme Leader to scale back his nuclear war programme. Given that individuals considered to be lacking in ambition can be reclassified as ‘Minimum Recipients’ and sent to vast enigmatic establishments known collectively as the Fortress of Sleep, this causes somewhat of a panic in the nuclear household. When Alexander’s son Franz (Jarosch) reports him to the authorities for resting on the sofa, an action deemed as sub-optimal, a representative from a mysterious agency called Life Guidance named Gregor Fainmann (played with a sociopathic flourish by Florian Teichtmeister) is sent to help him back onto the right track. To the horror of his wife (and sat-nav), Dworsky resists, setting course to lock horns with the establishment and investigate the company sent to evaluate him.

The acting is intentionally stiff and gives a curiously menacing corporate David Lynch mood to proceedings. There is no emotion in the daily lives of the characters and Mader seems to extend this to the performances of the actors. The catch with this approach however is that it is very difficult to gain any empathetic grip on Dworsky. It’s not difficult to see the parallels to our current climate, albeit society itself being the emotionally indifferent collective defining individuals as unemployable, too old or too lethargic to achieve its pre-defined attainment goals. This may be why Mader keeps most of the details at a frustratingly enigmatic distance, preferring a socio-political statement over a traditional narrative arc.  The result is enjoyable but at times maddening, implication favoured over explanation.

Life Guidance eventually collapses under the weight of its own enigma, yet is an interesting and distinctive take on the well-oiled cinematic obsession with bleak dystopian socio-political futures.

Dir: Ruth Mader

Cast: Fritz Carl, Katharina Lorenz, Nicolas Jarosch, Florian Teichtmeister

Prd: Gabriele Kranzelbinder

DOP: Christine A. Maier

Music: Manfred Plessl

Country: Austria

Year: 2017

Run Time: 101 minutes