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-Michel Rehberg, in his final screen performance), a broken old man who’s in a memory care facility and unfortunately is 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 to excess and is probably carrying forty 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 working on this look for most of his life, and he’s not changing it.
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 their disappointing parent ever captured onscreen, and Seidl honors the work of the two actors by staying on them and not cutting 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. There’s no special pleading on behalf or anyone in the story, or any romanticizing (although there’s something about Thomas that makes you like him no matter how degraded his behavior).
There are probably too many scenes detailing Richie’s carousing with various women—the issue is not any of the 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 trip worth it, as when Richie is too drunk to perform and his partner has to keep interrupting them to go into an adjoining room and tend to her elderly mother. The best parts of the film 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 in order to capture that level of delusion and misery. It’s elating, in a horrible kind of way. Liberating, almost.
Wolfgang Thaler’s cinematography and Mona 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, just two weeks after the final credits, packing his backs and going somewhere else.
Michael Thomasas Richie Bravo
Tessa Göttlicheras Daughter Tessa
Hans-Michael Rehbergas Father
Inge Mauxas Emmi Fleck
Claudia Martinias Annie
Georg Friedrichas Ewald
Natalya Baranovaas Krankenpflegerin
Silvana Sansonias Witwe
- Ulrich Seidl
- Ulrich Seidl
- Veronika Franz
- Wolfgang Thaler
- Monika Willi
- Fritz Ostermayer
- Herwig Zamernik