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MELANCHOLIA

UK, 1989 (MIFF 1990)

Director: Andi Engel

“YOU WAKE UP ONE MORNING and you know you're lost." An expatriate German approaching middle age in the comfortable niche he has built as a London art critic, David Keller (Jeroen Krabbe), is already uneasily aware of a sense of self-betrayal when 1968 abruptly resurfaces through a telephone call from Hamburg. A Chilean military torturer is ripe for extermination; in three weeks time, attending a conference in London, this Vargas will present a perfect target. Can David live up to the militant political idealism of his youth and carry out the execution?

Andi Engel's first feature is both a particularly assured and cine-literate debut, as well as a coo! yet gripping Euro-thriller grappling with one of two "big issues". Like Wender's American Friend (a film with which it shares much ground). Melancholia goes to Hitchcock, via Patricia Highsmith, for its central device: the exchange of a crime in order to prevent its detection. And like many of the films of von Trotta, Schlondorff and Fassbinder, Melancholia is concerned with the legacy of post-'68 European political activism. Yet this is no mere retread of the New German Cinema's greatest hits; rather. Melancholia arrives now as an informed postscript to these key films of the mid-late 70's, with passing references (obvious or merely conjured) to the films of Reinhard Hauff, Chris Petit and Antonioni, who have trodden a similiar path.

At the end of his journey, Keller closes the shutters on his Tuscany retreat, as a phone rings incessantly. Alone in the empty house, he comes face to face with the melancholy truth, namely that idealism died in 1968, killed off by the amoeba-like growth of cynical political expediency.

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