Still Life is Austrian director Sebastian Meise‘s first full length feature film. It revolves around a family father who has incestual fantasies about his daughter. His son discovers this after he sees him with a prostitute, whom he’s paying to play the sexual role of the daughter. The son then reveals his father’s secret to the rest of the core family.
As interesting and compelling as that set-up sounds it’s sadly the only thing the film really has going for it. The discovery happens right at the outset and the reveal shortly there after. That leaves you with a meandering, aimless film that never amounts to anything, robbing it of all impact. None of the characters really face the issue at hand, instead wandering about at random, resulting in a palpable lack of character growth. Because the reveal comes so soon you don’t have any emotional attachment in any of the characters and the film never does anything to get you to invest in the proceedings. Very soon the experience becomes frustrating as you’re always a step ahead of the film and it never pays off what its paint-drying pace would infer.
Technically the film fares much better, it’s well shot with a handful of beautifully framed scenes. But even here there’s a certain lack of focus, with the film not committing to its more unconventional style, choosing instead to fall back on the very traditional continuity editing technique for conversations. It stands at odds with the rest of the film and shows a certain lack of care, the same that can be found in the film’s direction and scripting.
Really the film’s only outright success, apart from the central conceit, is in the acting which remains convincing throughout. But of course all that is completely let down by the botched execution, which in truth even detracts from the impact of its shocking (to begin with) thematic mainline.
Final Verdict: Glaciers melting in the dead of night move faster and provide more emotional gravity than this rather lifeless, yet beautiful, husk of a film that fails to resonate. An unsuccessful debut that would’ve been better served as a short film.
Keep up with our RIFF coverage here.