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Review: Asche


- Elena Wolff’s sophomore effort offers a rather striking, but not exactly coherent, glimpse at the millennial art scene in the city of Linz

Review: Asche
Celine Meral (left) and Elena Wolff in Asche

Even before Elena Wolff’s sophomore feature, Asche, starts, the audience is warned that the film features certain things that might trigger them, such as drug and alcohol abuse – and, oddly enough, the city of Linz. Why the capital of Upper Austria should serve as a trigger for anyone remains a mystery, but this aspect also highlights the young filmmaker’s primary intention to provoke the audience however she sees fit. The film, however, did not premiere on home turf, but rather some 200 km away, at the Diagonale in Graz.

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Asche is set in the circle of aspiring and up-and-coming artists from the budding Linz scene, and centres on three women who are part of an artistic collective whose performance we see early on, while we meet their partners at the afterparty following it. Lulu (the filmmaker herself) hooks up with Simeon (Thomas Schubert, of Afire [+see also:
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fame), a self-confident photographer who proclaims himself to be an authentic genius and the alpha male of the scene. Their relationship is turbulent and based on shaky foundations, since he insists that it should be open while also acting like he owns her, but the question is how long his “muse” will be willing to put up with it. On the other hand, Anna (Selina Graf, collaborating with Wolff once again, after her 2022 debut, Para: Dies) tries to break away from the toxic romanticism of her boyfriend Felix (Simon Kluth), using a move to Berlin as an excuse, while she might also be interested in some much darker stuff that she can find in Linz. Finally, the seemingly idyllic relationship between Élise (Naomi Bah) and Emilia (Celine Meral) falls apart due to their conflicting ideas of closeness. And there is also Jakob (Nils Svenja Thomas), a non-artist, a potential stalker and maybe even an incel with whom Lulu starts conversing in the park…

Asche is a film drenched in excess, and all that foul language, cocaine and alcohol abuse, as well as the use of largely gratuitous nudity, are clearly aimed at provoking a strong reaction from the audience. In the dialogue department, the filmmaker tries to shine a spotlight on the toxicity of interpersonal relationships, even in artistic circles, that is enabled by the predominant patriarchal model, but she does so in a clumsy way that seems more like rambling than firmly pointing a finger at the problem. Even the third-act turn into the territory of revenge horror seems like a vague, underdeveloped idea and yet another attempt at shocking the audience.

Wolff tries to forge a new and unique visual language, but it often ends up somewhere between music-video aesthetics and an attempt at alternative arthouse cinema. First-time DoP Nora Einwaller sometimes opts for plainly odd angles that deform the actors’ features for no apparent reason (although her work still managed to persuade the festival jury to give her an award – see the news), while the editing by Alba Diaz is too choppy for a story that unfolds in two different timelines, presented simultaneously. In the acting department, Asche is also uneven, since the helmer casts herself in the main role so that she can expose herself, in every sense of the word. Apart from her, only Thomas Schubert and Naomi Bah play their characters with a bit of swagger, while the rest of the thesps end up being a tad bland in comparison. In the end, Asche can be seen as a striking movie, a bit like a punch to the eye, but it could benefit from more coherence.

Asche is an Austrian-German co-production by Elena Wolff Produktion and Elli Leeb Produktion, run by the filmmaker herself and her producer. Sixpackfilm handles the distribution.

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