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Recensione: Projekt Ballhausplatz


- Il documentario di Kurt Langbein sull'ex cancelliere austriaco Sebastian Kurz ha i suoi momenti di interesse, ma serve soprattutto a raccontare eventi che sono già noti a tutti

Recensione: Projekt Ballhausplatz

Questo articolo è disponibile in inglese.

“What I don’t understand is why every injustice is always my fault.” These words are uttered by Sebastian Kurz, former chancellor of Austria and former head of the conservative Austrian People’s Party, during an interview. The topic is potential corruption within his ranks. And, as always, Kurz goes for his preferred narrative: it is everybody’s fault except his own. People just want to harm him.

These opening minutes of Kurt Langbein’s documentary Projekt Ballhausplatz [+leggi anche:
scheda film
, which opens today, 21 September, in Austrian cinemas, courtesy of Filmladen Filmverleih GmbH, serve as an uneasy flashback to a time when everyone who challenged Kurz’s party was declared an enemy, and when the constitutional state seemed under constant attack from the man himself and his disciples. Langbein, whose credits include documentaries such as Landraub and Der Bauer und der Bobo, aims to retrace the rise and fall of one of Austria’s most controversial politicians in recent history.

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In doing so, Langbein utilises a classic combination of TV and PR footage, and talking heads. The documentary kicks off in 2010, when Kurz first came to attention during the regional elections in Vienna, and concludes in 2021, when he resigned during his second tenure as chancellor. The surfacing of old chat messages that showed that he was being manipulative behind closed doors, scaring people off and using taxpayers’ money to buy survey results, had quickly made him a persona non grata.

Projekt Ballhausplatz follows the often-reiterated narrative of a young man who had no regard for the democratic structures of a country, but a precise action plan to seize power within it. He looked up to men like Viktor Orbán, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, reinvented himself from moderate liberal to xenophobic hardliner, made political decisions that were not in line with Austrian or EU law just for show, declared anyone who was not for him as an enemy and, together with his loyal henchmen, tried to infiltrate all three pillars of a functioning democracy.

While the documentary might, for those who lived through it, serve as a reminder of past political scandals, it is hard to see how the format could function outside of Austria or how it could have any contemporary relevance. If that was ever the plan, that is. There is too much name-dropping and reliance on established knowledge, while other facts are hurriedly glossed over as if Langbein were running out of footage or time over the final 15 minutes.

As a matter of fact, for those who lived through Kurz’s reign, there is very little new information or context. The documentary mostly works as a recap of known facts, and provocative political statements and media appearances. Moments such as when a journalist remembers how Kurz threatened him over a question in advance of an interview are the most chilling, but these scenes are few and far between.

Instead, Langbein repeatedly includes those affected by Kurz’s right-wing politics, like a mother of two children, a foreign caregiver or a priest working with refugees. This way, Projekt Ballhausplatz becomes less of a story about uncovering crime, and more of a moral appeal to say no to hardliner positions. “Look how Kurz made their lives worse,” is the message.

The documentary is, therefore, not so much an exposure of a political system, but an accusation – a plea for Langbein’s fellow countrymen and -women not to give in to populist ideas. It is no coincidence that the last shot of the movie is of current Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer – a dark premonition that cycles tend to repeat themselves.

Projekt Ballhausplatz was produced by Austria’s Kurt Langbein and Langbein & Partner Media.

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