Lovely Rita Review

Lourdes director Jessica Hausner’s first feature, a bleak portrait of a teenage girl, is now on DVD from Artificial Eye

Lovely Rita is a film vulnerable to perfectly valid criticism of the negative variety yet it’s one also deserving of an equally spirited defense. Its flaws are more or less subjective. What’s nice is that you can’t dismiss the picture as director Jessica Hausner having failed to do something she intended to do. If you the viewer do not like Lovely Rita then it’s probably because you prefer films of a different sort. Of course, such things can be said about any number of forms of art and entertainment but the difference here, so far as I can tell, is that Hausner has clearly removed or omitted much of what it is that viewers have grown to expect from movies. It’s not even a puzzle with a few pieces missing. Hausner specializes in deprivation. Some of the major virtues of accessibility – motivation, continuity, resolution – are simply gone.

This is deeply arrogant filmmaking, to be sure. Hausner has often been likened to her fellow Austrian Michael Haneke, who is perhaps the most arrogant and manipulative director of relevance that cinema has ever seen. I don’t think that comparison is particularly fair or, for that matter, apt, but both have definitely shown a lack of respect – for Haneke it would be disdain – for their audience. Or, alternatively, maybe it’s a greater respect than most given how wildly the films’ moods vary from mainstream fare. I’m buying the former. Regardless, films like theirs are surely to be divisive and, from my experience, entirely worth watching. Lovely Rita should perhaps carry the warning that it involves characters who sometimes seem more artificial than complex, contains a third act shock that’s almost entirely out of the blue, and opts for a cut to black ending instead of one which would have provided even the tiniest bit of closure. Despite all of these little tricks and blemishes, I found the whole thing to be mesmerizing.

The film zooms in, literally, on Rita (Barbara Osika), an unpopular and troubled teenage girl who attends a Catholic school in Austria. At school and home Rita is almost always being reprimanded in some manner. Some of this comes across as overreaction but maybe it’s frustration at the frequency of Rita’s misbehavior. Still, much of it is clearly handled poorly. Her parents, with whom Rita lives alone, consist of an overly passive mother and a father who can be loving but also flips out at the toilet lid being left up. Among all of Rita’s troubles it’s this toilet lid indiscretion that her father seems most angry about, though her punishment consists of being locked in her room regardless of the offense. The school seems equally to blame for not dealing with whatever the root of the problems is. Rita lies to get out of class so that she can ride a specific bus driven by a man she has a crush on, but the teacher just allows it for far too long until finally having enough and sending her to the office.

The character of Rita, in the film from start to finish, is positioned ever so delicately by Hausner. The impression ultimately has to be formed in the aggregate because one scene will develop sympathy and understanding while the next will present her as little more than a dumb, selfish kid. I think that’s probably exactly what she is – a dumb, selfish kid – but I wouldn’t pretend that anything more or less could honestly shift things so far as to affect the viewer’s perception of the character. Based just on her actions, Rita is a misfit with, at the very least, questionable judgment. She does enough to make the title of the film feel ironic. She’s equally prepared to give her body to a really young neighbor with whom she’s friends and the much older bus driver who looks to be in his thirties. A pair of more desperate acts follows. These position the film and its protagonist in a different, more serious light. The last of the two is best discovered on one’s own but the other, kidnapping her sick friend from the hospital, actually feels more egregious and negligent.

This becomes a confirmation of sorts as to how troubling Lovely Rita is. More than Hausner’s two subsequent features, Hotel and Lourdes, her debut has character ambiguity wherein the lead isn’t positioned as a blonde, seemingly innocent woman plagued by fate and its forces. Rita has dimension, even if it sometimes rings false and invented. The performance of Barbara Osika, a photogenic and natural lead who apparently hasn’t acted on film before or since, is a strong asset. She becomes Rita, or the given perception of her. Hausner outfits her in striking green clothes, much as she would put the heroine of Hotel in red. In an almost intangible way this recurring pattern of color strengthens the tone and mood of the film, and it’s that building of atmosphere that probably hits the hardest. Lovely Rita feels unsettling and strangely absorbing. It’s imperfect but very much contained within a certain philosophy of cinema to which Hausner seems to subscribe. Of her three films so far, this feels the most raw and immediate, and it’s probably the one I prefer.

The Disc

Artificial Eye’s UK DVD of Lovely Rita is region-free and PAL. The disc is single-layered. It was released simultaneously with Jessica Hausner’s second feature Hotel and separate DVD and Blu-ray editions of Lourdes.

Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the image is enhanced for widescreen televisions. It was shot on digital video and therefore looks somewhat rough around the edges. Detail appears reasonable for this method but is still modest, particularly in darker scenes. Colors can sometimes stand out, as with Rita’s often worn green coat. The transfer is interlaced but doesn’t have any significant deficiencies from a viewing standpoint. There are no signs of damage either.

The audio is a German Dolby Digital 2.0 track. It’s a clean listen that never overexerts itself. Dialogue can be heard clearly and at a consistent volume. Music such as what’s heard at the dance club Rita visits booms within the confines of the front two channels. I didn’t hear any abnormalities in the audio. English subtitles are optional and white in color.

While it would have been interesting to hear comments from director Jessica Hausner on these releases, she’s absent from all three. Only trailers for the features – Lourdes (1:54), Hotel (1:45), and Lovely Rita (1:27) – have been included as any sort of bonus material.

clydefro jones

Updated: Aug 16, 2010

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