Gay arthouse cinema set in Austria and likely to divide audiences.



Chantal Akerman's famed avant-garde film of 1975, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, Bruxelles, is a work regarded by some as a masterpiece and by others as boring beyond belief. Unexpectedly, I was reminded of it when watching Händl Klaus's Tomcat. It too is one of those films which more than most will provoke radically conflicting reactions, and it is also a work that embraces something of the minimalism to be found in Akerman's piece.


The world of Tomcat is quite different in that it is focused on the lives of two gay men, a couple who have their home in the outskirts of Vienna. Stefan (Lukas Turtur) plays the French horn while Andrea (Philipp Hochmair) is manager of an orchestra. In addition to their shared love of music, both men dote on the cat, Moses, which they have acquired from a pound and they are devoted to each other. For the first quarter of this two-hour film, Klaus, writer as well as director, concentrates on the daily life of these two including orchestra rehearsals, parties, home life and sex (Klaus is not a filmmaker who believes in discretion when it comes to male nudity).


Akerman's film similarly concentrated on the everyday at length and only at its climax featured a dramatic act. Klaus does not wait that long but nevertheless, in choosing to observe the couple’s close relationship and then the way in which a single event renders it insecure, he offers a long narrative containing only two incidents that could be called dramatic. One is a sudden act of violence and the other a serious accident and, while both are crucial to the tale, neither will provide much satisfaction to any audience for whom a slow-paced psychological and emotional study offers insufficient drama.


This is controlled, consistent filmmaking (Tomcat won a prize at Berlin) and the lead actors are very successful at suggesting the loving bond at the film's centre. Indeed, viewers looking for a compellingly  convincing portrait of a settled gay relationship will rightly be enthusiastic. However, as the story proceeds, the film fails to develop any theme about the sudden violence of which most human beings are capable. Furthermore, following the violence here (the nature of which I deliberately refrain from disclosing lest prior knowledge of it might lessen even further the film's dramatic force), the reactions to it of both Stefan and Andreas seem too extreme to carry full conviction. That, for me at least, is the film's weakness, but by taking its time, Tomcat involves us in a relationship once secure that has come under strain and may now be threatened. And it does so with an admirable lack of sentimentality, a fact that enables the film to turn the phrase 'I love you' into something that escapes cliché to regain its true depth of meaning.




Cast: Lukas Turtur, Philipp Hochmair, Thomas Stipsits, Manuel Rubey, Gerald Votava, Gabriela Hegedüs, Brigitte Pototschnig, Oswald Köhler, Philemon Aigner, Toni, Kathi.


Dir Händl Klaus, Pro Antonin Svoboda and Bruno Wagner, Screenplay Händl Klaus, Ph Gerald Kerkletz, Pro Des Enid Löser, Ed Joana Scrinzi, Costumes Tanja Hausner.


114 mins. Austria/Switzerland. 2016. Rel: 12 May 2017. Cert. 18.