Review: Eismayer

Written and directed by David Wagner, Vice Lieutenant Eismayer is the most feared trainer and model macho in the Austrian Military and lives as a gay man in secret. When he falls in love with a young, openly gay soldier, his world gets turned upside down. Based on real events. Starring: Gerhard Liebmann, Luka Dimic, Julia Koschitz, Anton Noori, Karl Fischer, Christopher Schärf and Lion Tatzber.

Momentarily putting aside the actual content of Eismayer, the fact that this is based on a true story and that two gay men managed to find one another in such an inhospitable, unforgiving and prejudiced environment is truly incredible. Diving into this film, you can quickly imagine what sort of fate might befall both Eismayer (Gerhard Liebmann) and Falak (Luka Dimic), and you’ll be delightfully proved wrong. However, whether David Wagner’s depiction does that phenomenal story justice is questionable.

The film spends an inordinate amount of time building that initial harsh atmosphere, full of homophobia, aggression and repression, when it genuinely didn’t need to. Resulting in the problem that it hasn’t left enough space and time to explore the relationship between Eismayer and Falak. Holding so much focus on Eismayer in his dictator style persona, it starts to make him feel like a weak leading character. While the filmmakers and anyone familiar with his story will know that it’s all about the evolution of his personality and perspective, that might not be clear to all viewers, sending them down the wrong path.

It’s a shame, as when the story does finally delve into their relationship, it’s then difficult to build a lot of genuine emotion. The knock on effect of that being that what they do give us feels slightly forced. Although that’s no fault of the performances because both Gerhard Liebmann and Luka Dimic wonderfully throw themselves into these characters. While Liebmann’s Eismayer has a typical male-ego intensity, Dimic’s Falak has a rare bravery, openness and dedication. It would have been great for Dimic to take more of the focus as his character has so much to offer, while Eismayer is extremely stereotypical of gay men in the closet, filled up with self-hatred in a world of toxic masculinity.

Visually, it matches the intensity of the story, it draws in that aggression to build tension and risk. It has an authentically fierce atmosphere which grabs you right from the opening frame. It does a great job of evoking the era, making it feel effortless. However, the movement and progression to Eismayer can feel repetitive, at a certain point it feels like they’re treading the same ground and could have switched up the ratio of its before and after their connection, to boost the film. It’s a difficult thing to blend romance with such an aggressive tone, it has to be a near perfect balance to make it work and here they’re leaning too much on the latter.

Eismayer is such an unbelievable true story that the film struggles to do it justice. While the leading performances from Gerhard Liebmann and Luka Dimic are undeniably intense and they create a surprising but sweet connection, the film isn’t giving them enough room to truly flourish. The direction and aesthetic are strong throughout but trying to nourish romance in such a toxic atmosphere, regardless of it being true, is a hard thing to achieve convincingly. Ultimately it feels as though its focus is in the wrong place, spending too long going over the same ground before getting to the heart of its story.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Screening as part of WatchAUT at Ciné Lumière on 24 March

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