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Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl is one of the world's best directors of actors, and he nears some kind of a peak in "Rimini," a blisteringly funny and often touching film about people struggling towards happiness despite having experienced lifetimes of disappointment.
Set in the seaside city of the title—a "vacation town" made mournful by winter—it focuses on Richie Bravo (Michael Thomas), a once-famous pop singer. Richie lives in Rimini with his retired father (Hans-Michael Rehberg, in his final screen performance), a broken old man in a memory care facility, and, unfortunately, a Nazi sympathizer. Richie performs in nightclubs and bars and picks up a little bit of money that way, and picks up a little bit more money going home with women his own age or older. He drinks and smokes constantly and is probably carrying 40 more pounds than he must've had at his peak of stardom. He has puffy eyes, a cascading mane of hair, and twice as much jewelry as any man needs. His preferred outerwear is a sealskin coat with shoulders cut absurdly wide. He's obviously been perfecting this look for most of his life, and he's not changing it. He’s content to be a mess.
Then a young woman shows up at one of his gigs and says she's his daughter Tessa (Tessa Göttlicher), and she wants him to pay all the back child support he owes her mother. The arguments between Richie and Tessa are some of the best arguments between an adult child and a disappointing parent ever captured onscreen. Seidl honors his actors’ teamwork by holding on them in medium shots and trying not to cut until they're done. They overlap, they tear into each other, sometimes they yell, and there are moments where it seems like maybe one of the actors took the scene in an unanticipated direction, and the other decided to roll with it—and this, too, feels real.
One of the many things that makes Richie fascinating is that if you described him as a gigolo who performs music on the side rather than a working musician, he might not disagree with you. Seidl and his cowriter Veronika Franz don't have any illusions about any of their characters. Tessa seems a bit less righteous and more scammy as the story goes on; she has a boyfriend and he has an entourage. Richie’s clients and party friends have lives, and Richie’s barely controlled chaos is their brief escape from responsibility. There's no special pleading on behalf of anyone in the story or any romanticizing (although there's something about Thomas that makes you like Richie no matter how degraded his behavior).
There are probably too many scenes detailing Richie's carousing with various women—the issue is not any specific behavior depicted but a certain repetitiousness that sets in, the "OK, we got it already" factor. But even when the movie seems to be spinning its wheels a bit, there's always a pivot or surprising disclosure that makes the scene worth it, as when Richie is too drunk to perform, and his partner has to keep pausing to go into an adjoining room and tend to her elderly, bedridden mother. The best parts are reminiscent of John Cassavetes films where you almost can't believe how unflatteringly the characters are being depicted and how far down the actors were willing to go to capture that level of delusion and misery. It's elating in a horrible way. Liberating, almost.
Wolfgang Thaler's cinematography and Monika Willi's editing capture the desiccated loveliness of the town during wintertime, stressing negative space in the frame where vacationers would be if it were warmer. The story ends in a place that makes sense, with Richie getting something like a comeuppance and possibly, in his own mind, a redemption—although it's equally easy to imagine him, a week or two after the final scene, packing his bags and going somewhere else.
Supposedly, this is the first part of a matching set of films, the other of which deals with Ritchie’s brother, who is introduced in the opening sequence where Ritchie performs for a sparsely populated memorial service for their mother and the two commiserate, getting blitzed in the family home and improvising an indoor shooting range. I confess that I am more excited to see this film than I am to see the next Star Wars or Marvel. If you’re as twisted as I am, you’ll understand.
Now playing in select theaters.
Michael Thomas as Richie Bravo
Tessa Göttlicher as Daughter Tessa
Hans-Michael Rehberg as Father
Inge Maux as Emmi Fleck
Claudia Martini as Annie
Georg Friedrich as Ewald
Natalya Baranova as Krankenpflegerin
Silvana Sansoni as Witwe