"Forever young - no matter how!" - In her video work, Jovana Reisinger sends three perfectly styled young people in search of a fountain that promises eternal youth and beauty. About the attitude to life of a generation between youth mania, chic outdoor clothing and Instagram.

Perfectly equipped with practical and stylish trekking outfits withcountless multifunctional pockets, and of course the obligatory hiking schnapps, the three friends Romy (Julia Riedle), Magda-Gustav (Benjamin Radjaipour), and Karl-Heinz (Thomas Hauser) roam through idyllic mountain landscapes. Clouds of fog dissolve to offer glimpses of the peaks, birds chirp cheerfully, a cowbell tinkles languorously, and ethereal synthesizer sounds complete the picture of a natural landscape at peace with itself, in which people can still ground themselves.

The three friends, meanwhile, are not in the mountains for relaxation or self-discovery. Rather, in the footsteps of Empress Elisabeth and King Ludwig II, they are searching for a fountain of youth mentioned in secret sources and claimed to harbor eternal youth and beauty, because: “Only those who are beautiful are lucky in life!”, as Magda-Gustav  summarizes. Yet the search for the fountain of youth is not an easy one, since the source of eternal youth is nowhere to be seen. The result are repeatedly small scenes of dialog between the three protagonists, situated between ironically broken slogan-dropping, meta-reflections, and exaggerated pathos, repeatedly interrupted by short sequences in which immaculate nature shots are digitally kitsched up.

“‘Unterwegs im Namen der Kaiserin. Prequel’ (‘On the Road in the Name of the Empress’) is a film about fashion, love, (anti-)homeland, capital, and beauty,” is how director Jovana Reisinger sums up her new work. And therefore not only do the title and the names of the protagonists (all of them names of actors from the well-known “Sissi” trilogy) refer to Heimatfilms, but the repetitive, wooden scenes and the pathetic jargon also relate to this film genre. However, Romy, Magda-Gustav, and Karl-Heinz also have visible problems with the credibility of this jargon, as one or the other repeatedly bursts out laughing while reciting the empty words – whereupon the scene is repeated without further ado until it at least sits a little.

Jovana Reisinger, Unter­wegs im Namen der Kaise­rin. Prequel, 2021-22, film still, © Jovana Reisinger

‘Unterwegs im Namen der Kaiserin. Prequel’ is a film about fashion, love, (anti-)homeland, capital, and beauty

Jovana Reisinger


Decoding Genres

In previous directorial works, such as the four-part series “pretty pretty mad sad” (2016-8), artist and writer Jovana Reisinger used a film language raised on advertising slogans and television aesthetics to repeatedly address role models and beauty standards of the meritocracy – themes that also ran through her novels “Still halten” (2017) and “Spitzenreiterinnen” (2021). The reference to the Heimatfilm now – that most German of all film genres, which celebrated its heyday in German-speaking lands in the 1950s with the countless remakes of films from the Nazi era – is also due to an interest in scratching at the very concept of Heimat, says the artist, who grew up in Austria.

Jovana Reisinger, Unter­wegs im Namen der Kaise­rin. Prequel, 2021-22, film still, © Jovana Reisinger

Homeland, immortal beauty and eternal youth – all this then culminates logically at the end in the absolutist slogans of the still desperate seekers, ultimately resounding: “We have to go on, even if it’s the last thing we do,” they say, and “Better to die young and sexy than to perish miserably,” while at the same time assuring themselves that they don't wear multifunctional clothing for nothing. And perhaps in the clash of the Heimatfilm themes with the postmodern talk of the eternal outdoor hipsters, complete with their only half-ironically concealed mania for optimization, the genre actually rediscovers something of itself in a consistently contemporary way.

As a second film, Reisinger has chosen “The Children of the Dead” (2019) by Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska. The directing duo already made a name for themselves on the theater scene as the “Nature Theater of Oklahoma”, and in their 2019 film they take on the novel of the same name by Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek. In her 1995 magnum opus, Jelinek dealt with the memory, or rather the repression, of the Shoah in a postmodern manner (complete with undead and splatter horror).


Jovana Reisinger, Unter­wegs im Namen der Kaise­rin. Prequel, 2021-22, film still, © Jovana Reisinger

Copper and Liska now translate the plot appropriately into a kind of Heimat-B-movie, shot on grainy Super 8 film with over 80 amateur actors. “The Children of the Dead” is not to be understood as a direct adaptation, but rather as a cinematic approach to the central themes of the novel: Copper and Liska were unable to read the original at all due to the absence of an English translation and therefore had Jelinek's work re-told to them. In Copper and Liska’s lurid grotesque, the repressed past finally breaks through violently when a horde of the undead smash through a burning screen into the realm of the living at a cinematic séance organized by an old Nazi widow. And it finds its logical vehicle in the recourse to the Heimatfilm of the post-War period, in which everything was consistently repressed.

Die Kinder der Toten, 2019, film still, © Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion, image via ulrichseidl.com


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