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Review: Vista Mare


- Julia Gutweniger and Florian Kofler take a look behind the scenes to show us the inner workings of the large-scale tourism business

Review: Vista Mare

It’s easy to assume a position of moral superiority when dealing with the subject of tourism, since said economic activity has a triangular scheme of exploitation linking the guests, who have needs; the workers, who cater to them; and the businesses, which provide the services. On the other hand, it is harder to remain neutral and objective when portraying the whole process of exchange among the three parties.

In their sophomore documentary, Julia Gutweniger and Florian Kofler strive for absolute objectivity as they observe the large-scale operation that is the tourist season on the Italian North Adriatic coast. Vista Mare premiered last year in the Semaine de la Critique section of Locarno and has toured several festivals since. Its visit to the Diagonale was fruitful, since the film scooped two prizes there, for cinematography and for sound design, which were handled by Gutweniger and Kofler, respectively (see the news).

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The duo opens the film on a grey, windy day on an almost empty beach, where a single swimmer battles against the waves, set to the sounds of eerie wind music composed by Gabriela Gordillo, followed by still shots of empty rental apartment blocks and swimming pools. It is an off-season period in an unnamed tourist town, and although all seems quiet, preparations for the coming boom are under way. Leaflets are printed, deckchairs and automatic parasols are tested and repaired, the new generation of tourism workers are trained in vocational schools, hotels and restaurants, and heavy machinery is even utilised to restore the eroded beaches by adding more sand.

Then, some half an hour in, the first tourists arrive and these places of peace and quiet morph into crowded, busy ones. The deckchairs and parasols are arranged in perfect order. The lifeguards and vendors exchange small talk amongst themselves while some serve customers almost on autopilot. The hotels and the rental apartments are filled to maximum capacity. Kids’ parties happen during the day and raves take place at night on the beach. The attractions nearby are also busy: customers can choose between a dolphin show, an aquapark and a park featuring a miniature model of Venice. A workers’ rights protest even takes place in the town, but it also seems like a mere routine in which both the protesters and the police play their predefined roles.

Gutweniger and Kofler opt for a strictly observational method, predominantly using fixed, mid- to long-distance shots, overhearing conversations but never intervening in them and refusing to portray the whole operation as a class conflict. Gutweniger’s long takes are immaculately composed, and even if the symmetry is not always perfect, they are still astonishing and serve the purpose of showing the terrifyingly large scale of the business, in which all individuality tends to get lost. Dealing with the sound recording and design, Kofler does pretty much the same, creating a rich tapestry of a soundscape. The structure of having two asymmetrical acts also serves the film well by highlighting the contrast between the life of the town (or towns in the region) during the off and high seasons. The filmmakers’ approach might at times seem cold and calculated, but Vista Mare can still move the viewer merely by showing the size and the complexity of the process.

Vista Mare is an Austrian-Italian co-production by Eutopiafilm and Albolina Film. Filmotor handles the world sales.

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