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DIAGONALE 2018

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Review: Gatekeeper

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- Without resorting to political commentary or trying to become yet another movie on immigration issues, the second feature by Lawrence Tooley is a different take on human trafficking within Europe

Review: Gatekeeper
Loretta Pflaum in Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper, the second feature by Texan-born, Vienna-based filmmaker Lawrence Tooley, currently screening at the Diagonale in Austria, is a different take on human trafficking within European borders. On one hand, Gatekeeper is about a lesser-known form of human rights abuse – the profits made from cheap labour “imported” from poor EU member states to more prosperous countries. Without a shred of political commentary or wishing to become yet another feature on immigration issues, the film is more about the imbalance of power conditioned by individuals’ backgrounds and social status. Based on a script penned by Tooley and his co-author and lead actress, Loretta Pflaum, the story only slightly leans on information provided by the OECD, with the actual narrative centring around a love story doomed to failure, delving deep enough into the mechanisms of human nature without breaking the magic by being too self-explanatory.

Elly (Pflaum) is a successful Viennese gallery owner who leads a double life. By day, she is a focused business owner who keeps everything under control, but by night, she drives around on her mysterious quests, wearing a disguise. During one such nocturnal excursion, she accidentally hits a young man on a bike, whose fear of the authorities forces Elly to make a choice. She invites him to stay with her in her huge, modernistic apartment and recover. Although he now appears to be safe, the man, whose name (Alec) and nationality (Romanian) are virtually the only information he gives Elly about himself, still seems to be paralysed by anguish. The modern inner architecture of his new temporary abode, with its massive windows overlooking the most opulent buildings in town, becomes a central part of the anatomy of the psyche, as it reveals both protagonists' deepest desires, angsts and personal codes of conduct. As the love between the two burgeons, the posh milieu is quick to react. The conflicts between Alec and Elly’s ex-husband Mark (Jeremy Xido) and sister (Antje Hochholdinger) are pre-programmed.

The decision to use two actors to play Alec (Anghel Damian and George Pistereanu) might be confusing at first, but as the film progresses, it starts making sense. The title Gatekeeper is a clear reference to the parable Before the Law contained in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, which is retold in the final chapter of the film by an Afghan refugee, featured in Mark's video art.

The film’s soundtrack is exquisite, made up of rare or unknown tracks ranging from the progressive rock of Egg and their version of Bach’s Fugue in D Minor to the “schnitzelbeat” of Gerhard Wilfried’s Chica Chica Bum from 1958. Romanian avant-garde composer Iancu Dumitrescu’s Hyperspectres for Cellos wraps around Alec’s nightmare sequence like a scarf around a victim’s neck, while excerpts from Salvatore Sciarrino’s Capricci 1,2 & 5 and the microtonal sounds of Manfred Stahnke’s Capra follow him on the long, slow road to mental recovery.

The scripting, directing, editing and even a part of the production of Gatekeeper, which was shot entirely in Vienna, were handled by Tooley. It was produced by AskimAskim Film Berlin, which also has the international rights, and Vienna-based Martin Maier Media.

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