Import/Export (Austria, France Germany, 2007)

Surreal reality

This is Ulrich Siedl’s second feature and followed a career as a documentary-maker; despite ‘going fiction’ Siedl’s concern is still very much with reality. The film concerns the victims of globalisation who aren’t paid a living-wage, the Ukrainian nurse Olga, or struggle to get work, the Austrian security guard Paul. Olga goes to Austria, after trying internet porn, to work as a ‘nanny’; Paul ends up in Ukraine apparently going nowhere, like the Jack Nicholson character in Five Easy Pieces (1970). In this, the film is similar to Micheal Haneke’s Code Unknown (France, Germany, Romania, 2000) and Michael Winterbottom’s In This World (UK, 2002), both of which also deal with economic migration. However Import/Export is also, potentially, like Carlos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven (Mexico et al, 2005) which used non actors in extremely explicit sex scenes.

However, while I found Reygadas exploitative – the scenes sex scenes seemed to me to be designed to shock in themselves – Siedl’s portrayal of internet sex was representing a very real employment opportunity for young people and so the shock derives from the existence of the activity and not his filming of it. All the actors, it has to be said, are immensely convincing; a tribute to Seidl’s direction.

Also potentially exploitative are the scenes in the geriatric ward, where Olga ends up. These old folk are clearly at ‘death’s door’ and Siedl’s unflinching camera makes this obvious. As the image above suggests, there is the potential to make fun of these people but Siedl is careful to individuate them and so we can feel sympathy for them (and fear of being geriatric!).

The film is also beautifully shot with some stunning compositions and locations; the Romany’s dilapidated (which understates the case) block of flats is quite astonishing. Neither of the characters meet, we have merely dipped into a few months of their desperate lives enabling us to see the consequences of unbridled capitalism. A brilliant film.

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