Directed by Daniel Hoesl
“The rich man may fall for a stock exchange ruse, but the poor man’s got nothing to lose.” In case you hadn’t gathered the sentiment of Soldate Jeanette around two-thirds of the way into its brisk 80-minute runtime, the man strumming his guitar at the dinner table says what everyone’s thinking, through his musical praise of a slender existence. The meal takes place at a farm, where former financial high-flyer Fanni (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg) has escaped to start a new life, away from the hollow boardrooms and into the tangled textures of the forest, surrounded by beings with a detectable pulse, from humans to barnyard critters. Her last remaining wads of cash can be found in the nearby thicket, burnt to a crisp atop a bonfire.
A streak of referential humour runs throughout this riches-to-rags odyssey, as director Daniel Hoesl name-checks the works of Godard, Dreyer and Akerman as visual forbearers to his leading lady’s tragicomic malaise. In her former life, Fanni watched Anna Karina watch Joan of Arc in Vivre sa Vie – or she would have done, if she wasn’t sleeping in the cinema. In between frittering away her money, she wistfully informs a friend that she’s off to see “a funny movie called Jeanne Dielmann”. That film, of course, has certain thematic overlaps with this one, though it moves in a substantially slower gear, absorbed in a repetitious aesthetic that reflects the banality of its protagonist’s daily life.
There’s no such hanging around of this sort to be found in Soldate Jeanette, as adept compositions give way to the next scene in a veritable slide show of reckless consumerism concealing hollowness. There’s some superb framing, many scenes opening on wide shots with no indication as to where Fanni will surface from. Hoesl’s slightly extended takes give the barest sense of dead time in empty boardrooms, later contrasted with the busy time spent running a farm, where work fills the up the empty seconds to allow for human desire to anticipate an upcoming restful period.
At the farm, Fanni encounters a young woman named Anna (Christina Reichsthaler), who is being abused on some level by her husband and therefore finds solace in the distant promise afforded by the luxurious life to which Fanni belonged previously. “My, you are good-looking, like a whore,” her man tells her, inadvertently feeding the case for the grass on the other side appearing far greener. Between her and Fanni, the definition of ‘dead time’ somewhat wavers. But on both patches of grass, there’s the idea of two women rejecting their oppression and fighting the mechanisms that seek to define them; once crossed over, a new awareness will circumvent any further attempts to belittle.
The concept is dually straightforward yet opaque, linear but open-ended, and aesthetically taken by all of its surroundings, most notably the lovingly detailed dissection of a cow inside a slaughterhouse. Delightful manoeuvring, to be sure, but the grass inside the stomach is not entirely worth chewing on – a slight offering, lacking in flavour beyond its principle attraction.