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Rimini – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Ulrich Seidl and Veronika Franz

Director: Ulrich Seidl

This offbeat Austrian comedy set in the Italian seaside resort of Rimini is a strange but rewarding meditation on ageing. It’s not always an easy watch with its depiction of desperately lonely older women seeking sex, but there’s something liberating, too, in Ulrich Seidl’s frank examination of the human condition.

It begins quite sensibly with a funeral. Has-been pop star Richie Bravo has travelled back to Austria from Italy to attend his mother’s funeral. He and his brother pick up their father from an old people’s home, but the father’s dementia means he understands little of what is going on in the crematorium. To an empty hall Richie sings a farewell ballad to his mother. The scene is sweet, but also embarrassing.

But back in Rimini, almost closed up completely for winter, Richie gets on with his life and he seems very busy. In the evening he plays gigs, singing over a backing track in half empty hotels for elderly Austrian tourists, most of them women, while in the daytimes he acts as a gigolo, having clumsy sex with the same women. He makes them feel wanted; they hand him envelopes full of cash in return. However, it’s not until he vacates his house, garish with leopard print wallpaper and with giant cut-outs of him when he was younger and thinner, to paying guests that we realise how little money he actually has.

Still, he’s better off than the homeless refugees who linger against the empty buildings on the rain swept beach or sleep outside hotels, shuttered up for the season. Cigarette in hand, Richie always sees them, but he hardly ever speaks to them. Dressed in black, they never say a word. These migrants from Syria remain indomitably ‘other’.

So fascinating is Richie’s life in Rimini that the film dips a little when his estranged daughter arrives wanting money. He left her and her mother long ago, but his daughter, hard and sharp, doesn’t want to reconnect or make up for lost time. She wants money in return for the car he never bought her, the house he never helped her buy. Her materialism is frightening and she doesn’t appear to realise that her father is poor, earning only just enough to pay for his drink habit.

Michael Thomas plays Richie with no hint of irony; indeed, if there was the sense that Thomas were mocking his character in any way then the film would fall apart. Wearing old admiral coats or jackets made from sealskin, Thomas exudes Richie’s faded glamour. Wearing white crocodile boots, shirts unbuttoned down to his navel and with chunky rings on his fingers, pony-tailed Richie is the king of a little corner of Rimini, and gets just enough adoration from his fans to believe that his reign isn’t over quite yet.

There’s excellent support, too, from Claudia Martini and Inge Maux as his most loyal fans. Their characters may be grotesque at times but the viewer feels compassion for them too. In his last ever role before he died, Hans-Michael Rehberg plays Richie’s father and his scenes in the old people’s home are beautifully done. Watching him, confined to his small room, makes it easy to understand why Richie is reaping as much out of life as he can. Georg Friedrich is Richie’s brother and disappointingly is only glimpsed briefly in the early parts of the film, but his character is the centre of Seidl’s next project.

In a strange film, Seidl and fellow writer Veronika Franz perhaps save the most unexpected plot twist until the end. And yet, could there be any other ending? The film’s message is to live, and to live responsibly. For all his faults, Richie could be the hero we’ve all been searching for.

The Reviews Hub Score

He’s just a gigolo, man

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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