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Ugly: In praise of pain


- Juri Rechinsky’s feature-length fiction debut is part of the Bright Future section of the International Film Festival Rotterdam

Ugly: In praise of pain

Despite the current state of the world, some would still argue that life is beautiful and worth living. But we are left wondering if that would be the case for director Juri Rechinsky, whose feature-length fiction debut, Ugly [+see also:
interview: Juri Rechinsky
film profile
, leaves very little room for happiness, instead allowing pain to envelope almost all of its scenes. The film, an Austrian-Ukrainian co-production, is currently screening at the International Film Festival Rotterdam as part of the Bright Future section.

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The plot revolves around lovers Hanna, from Austria, and Jura, from Kiev. We know little about their relationship before the accident that has left Hanna stuck in a Ukrainian hospital. Jura was driving when the accident happened, and he must inevitably contend with feelings of guilt and unworthiness as his girlfriend spends her days racked with pain. Taking this tragic accident as the starting point, the plot then splits and opens itself up to other subplots involving the lovers’ respective families.

Hanna’s mother, Marta, is an Austrian woman facing the scourge of Alzheimer’s. Married to a younger man, she struggles to carry on living and tries to escape from her stifling present (and dark future) by throwing a lavish party. But her escapism lasts nothing but a few hours before dawn brings with it the impossibility of happiness. 

Jura’s household, on the other hand, consists of a dysfunctional family whose members try to love each other – and try hard to make Jura love them back. But blood ties are no guarantee of love. In the middle of a family argument, some bad news arrives: Jura’s father has died of a heart attack.

Separated by geography and their social classes, both families seem to be wallowing in a mire of desolation, and their interaction serves as a dramatic backdrop for Hanna and Jura’s relationship – a relationship that will soon face yet another challenge in the guise of the arrival of a baby. Perhaps pregnancy can bring some hope to such gloomy lives – or perhaps not.

Now based in Austria, Ukrainian-born Rechinsky seems to have been inspired by Ulrich Seidl’s unmerciful portraits of characters on the verge of despair. Fittingly, not only did Seidl’s company co-produce the film, but its cinematography was also entrusted to one of the director’s most regular contributors, DoP Wolfgang Thaler (along with his son, Sebastian Thaler), and the cast of Ugly includes Maria Hofstätter (from Paradise: Faith [+see also:
film review
interview: Ulrich Seidl
film profile
), who is painfully convincing as Hanna’s sick mother.

Sharing Seidl’s distant viewpoint on his characters, his slow pace and his admirable ability to create living tableaux with almost exclusively fixed shots,Rechinsky nevertheless allows himself some lyrical indulgences, stamped with a distinctive hallmark in some sequences, such as the windy juncus fields or the boat scenes set on Lake Neusiedl – a sort of lyricism that is enhanced by the intense piano score composed by Anton Baibakov.

After his short film Why so Happy (2011) and the feature-length documentary Sickfuckpeople (2013), the fiction debut Ugly reveals a fearless director exploring the darkest sides of human nature, daring to delve deep inside it, yet still moulding his own distinctive look.

Ugly was produced by Vienna-based outfit Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion along with Pronto Film (Ukraine) and Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion (Austria). Thimfilm handles the Austrian theatrical distribution.

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