Thursday, 8 December 2011


Dort. Dort ist Österreich. 
I don't really remember when I first saw Barbara Albert's Nordrand, but the thing that has always stayed with me and that is just as strong when I return to the film, regardless of how my perspective on other aspects of the story has changed, is this feeling of knowing this specific place and time. The distance between the titular housing estate and where my family lived for most of my childhood is about five kilometres. In 1995 (you can pinpoint the chronology by the constant news reports on the peace talks that would eventually end the war in Bosnia), I'd just finished my first year in school, and one of those memories that only made sense years later were of a very quiet, very pale boy who joined us halfway through my last year in kindergarten. Nobody ever bothered explaining the concept of war refugees to us. Nordrand depicts the landscape of my childhood - the way the characters speak is entirely embedded in my brain, the flatness of the transdanubian urban fringe (the characters venture into the city for the New Year's Eve celebrations - the war-like fireworks, the waltzing on Stephansplatz - but most of the story takes place in the outskirts). 
Albert trails several characters. Nina Proll's Jasmin and Edita Malovcic's Tamara are at the centre of the story - two girls who went to school together but lost touch, leading completely different lives until they eventually meet again in an abortion clinic. Jasmin lives with her parents in one of the many similar looking housing estates, and unlike Elin in Lasse Moodysson's Fucking Åmål, she isn't able to voice her frustration with her situation. Her attempts to break out are random and self-destructive, and her resistance against this life remains unstructured. She attempts to protect her sister from the abusive father, but ultimately, her ability to even envision a different life is limited because this is all she knows (once she articulates that living on a higher floor in the building would be great - her ideas of a better future are literally limited to the microcosm of the estate). 
Tamara's reality is completely different from Jasmin's. She fled Yugoslavia as a child, her mother and brother have meanwhile returned (the unreliable phone lines only fuel her concern for them as the war escalates in its final stages), and she works as a nurse. Her boyfriend guards the border to keep refugees from entering - we follow one who manages to cross over and attempts to make a life for himself, avoiding police control, shovelling snow for a living, sleeping in a cramped refugee home - while another only sees Vienna as a stopover to America, which promises more money and better jobs. The "fringe" in the title isn't just about place, it's where most of  the characters are located. Their individual strategies of coping (articulated or not articulated) are always about making do with very little resources, and the film thrives on their unexpected moments of happiness. Albert connects the stories elegantly, the unfortunate artificiality of recent films that attempt to make a point by connecting an economically diverse cast of characters is completely missing. 

1999, directed by Barbara Albert, starring Nina Proll, Edita Malovcic, Astrit Alihajdaraj, Tudor Chirila, Michael Tanczos.

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