‘Rimini’: Film Review | Berlin 2022

Michael Thomas stars as a happy-go-lucky lounge lizard in the latest comedy-drama by Ulrich Seidl, the Austrian director of the ‘Paradise’ trilogy.

The first part of an intended diptych about two Austrian brothers, sleazy-fun black comedy Rimini follows one sibling, Ritchie Bravo (Michael Thomas), a part-time gigolo/self-catering host who’s living off the thin vapors of his almost evaporated fame as a singer of cheesy power pop ballads in the crumbly Italian seaside resort of the title. Over the course of events, Ritchie tries to achieve a kind of moral redemption but only via a simultaneous betrayal, so it’s a break-even effectively.

Likewise, this stands as one of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s better but not quite best features in a pretty consistent career, not as scurrilously seedy as him at his worst, or as merciless, but not as ambitious or startlingly insightful as his best. Co-written with regular collaborator Veronika Franz, it’s also his first fictional work since he concluded his Paradise trilogy with Hope back in 2013, not that the documentaries he’s made in the interim like In the Basement and Safari are any less noteworthy or distinguished. All Seidl’s work basically operates on a narrow spectrum between careful contrivance and random chance, while the preoccupations (sex and prostitution, tourism and immigration, amorality and religion) stay roughly the same throughout.


The Bottom Line

He sells sexy time by the seaside.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Michael Thomas, Tessa Goettlicher, Hans-Michael Rehberg, Inge Maux, Claudia Martini, Georg Friedrich
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Screenwriter: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz

1 hour 54 minutes

Rimini is right in that thematic wheelhouse, and even features a few familiar faces from earlier Seidl pictures, such as star Thomas (Import/Export, Paradise: Hope), Inge Maux (Paradise: Love) and Claudia Martini (Dog Days), as well as several key off-camera contributors, like longtime DP Wolfgang Thaler, production designer Andreas Donhauser and producer Philippe Bober. Unlike Rimini’s protagonist, a lone wolf in a sealskin coat who performs with just one roadie and a sound system, Seidl is once again getting the band back together.

First met coming home to his suburban family home in Austria to see his newly widowed, senile father (Hans-Michael Rehberg) and brother Ewald (Georg Friedrich), Richie is simultaneously a ridiculous figure and sort of a likable guy. Still working a look he must have perfected back in the 1980s, with a bleached blond mane of hair and sleeveless undershirts, he struts on stage and off, always on, always performing, whether he’s having a beer, singing a classical leid for his mother’s funeral or crooning his moldy old hits. (Fritz Ostermayer and Herwig Zamernik’s original compositions written for the film absolutely nail the true horror of the Schlager music sound; think easy listening meets country but with a lobotomy.)

Once back in off-season Rimini, its tattered tourist spots and beachfront properties eerie-looking under a constant miasma of fog, Ritchie does his regular rounds. He owns a relatively spacious house (hideous wallpaper, even uglier furniture, crammed with pictures of himself) that he rents out sometimes, like to flame-haired Ritchie Bravo-superfan Emmi (Maux) and her nebbish-y husband. When he has paying visitors, Ritchie decamps to a vacant hotel, raids the leftover stock in bar and sleeps on bare single mattresses in empty guest rooms.

As far as money is concerned, it’s never quite clear which occupation is more lucrative and which is the side hustle: singing to busloads of old folk still pumped to hear the Ritchie Bravo for 200 euros on a slow night, or having sex with aging clients like Annie (Claudia Martini). There’s no doubt that it’s meant to be a bit comical when Annie’s deaf mother is heard in the room next door crying out for a hot-water bottle when Ritchie and Annie are in the middle of doing 69. But as with his look at women sex tourists in Africa in Paradise: Love, Seidl isn’t entirely mocking of sex work, and certainly not judgmental about it, chiming in a way with recent British Sundance hit Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Ritchie takes money for sleeping with these ladies, but he also seems to genuinely enjoy it, especially since, as with singing, it’s something he’s actually pretty good at.

Clearly, one thing he’s lousy at is parenting, judging by the fact that his adult daughter Tessa (Tessa Goettlicher) shows up suddenly, spitting mad that she hasn’t seen him for over 12 years. Plus, she never got any birthday presents, let alone the car and the starter flat everyone else gets from their dad, so now she wants 30,000 euros, an oddly specific number that’s never quite explained.

Glowering nearby protectively is Tessa’s silent Middle Eastern boyfriend, with whom she lives in a recreational vehicle, along with another five or six men who are quite possibly Syrian refugees. Throughout, Ritchie makes mildly racist comments to the Arab-looking people he meets, not necessarily abusive but just ignorant or clumsy, like trying to persuade women wearing hijabs to “take their burqas off.” More often than not, he just walks by them as they sleep in doorways and under awnings all over Rimini, as if they’ve been blown there like sand from the beach, silently silting up the corridors of the city.

Seidl and Franz pull the strands of Ritchie’s story together in a way that, as is often the case with their work, leaves no one really a winner or even much better off. The extra bits concerning Ritchie’s father — a final role in the long career of Hans-Michael Rehberg, to whom the film is dedicated — feel a bit extraneous and unconnected to Ritchie’s narrative. Perhaps they’ll make more sense when the other half of the diptych featuring Richie’s brother Ewald comes out.

That said, there’s certainly a poetic resonance in the way the film ends with a lovely scene of Rehberg in his institutionally grim retirement home, enjoying a beautiful piece of music and crying for his mother, which contrasts with the makeshift refugee home Tessa and her partner have established at Villa Bravo back in Rimini.

Full credits

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Michael Thomas, Tessa Goettlicher, Hans-Michael Rehberg, Inge Maux, Claudia Martini, Georg Friedrich
Production companies: UlrichSeidlFilm Produktion, Essential Filmproduktion, Parisienne de Production, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Arte France Cinema
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Screenwriter: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz
Producers: Philippe Bober, Michel Merkt
Executive producers: Sarah Nagel, Isabell Wiegand, Dan Wechsler, Jamal Zeinal-Zade, Andreas Roald
Director of photography: Wolfgang Thaler
Art direction: Andreas Donhauser, Renate Martin
Costumes: Tanja Hausner
Editor: Mona Willi
Sound designer: Matz Mueller
Composers: Fritz Ostermayer, Herwig Zamernik
Casting: Eva Roth, Henri Steinmetz, Klaus Pridnig
Sales: Coproduction Office

1 hour 54 minutes