(2017, 118 min)
Director: Handl Klaus
Studio: First Run Features
Language: German with subtitles
Andreas and Stefan lead a happy life: Together with their beloved tomcat Moses, they live in a beautiful old house in Vienna's vineyards. They work as a musician and as a scheduler in the same orchestra and they love their large circle of friends. An unexpected and inexplicable outburst of violence suddenly shakes up the relationship and calls everything into question – the blind spot that resides in all of us.
An Austrian movie about two gay men and a cat naturally opens itself up to Freudian interpretation, but does it have to be so long? Haendl Klaus’ sophomore feature, “Tomcat,” boasts an intriguing premise: When one partner inexplicably, impulsively kills their much-loved kitty, this perfect couple are left questioning everything they knew about each other. The problems lie in the execution, with a tiresome insistence on pre- and post-lapsarian states of grace in which the lovebirds’ oh-so-perfect paradise shifts to banishment into hell. The acting and visuals are strong, the cat is great, but really, how much time do we want to spend with these people’s neuroses? Still, “Tomcat” will prowl around the gay festival circuit with its prize Teddy Award at its feet.
Life is just dandy for French-horn player Stefan (Lukas Turtur) and orchestra manager Andreas (Philipp Hochmair). They have a beautiful home with a great garden, wonderful jobs, terrific friends, a charismatic cat named Moses (charmingly played by Toni), and they’re devoted to each other. So Edenic is this setup that the couple naturally lounge about the house au naturel, just like Adam and Eve. And they have sex, usually alone but sometimes with their friend Lorenz (Thomas Stipsits) watching, which seems to satisfy everyone.
But just before that scene with Lorenz, a dead snake is found in the house. Hmmm. One day when Stefan strokes Moses, the cat seems to try to bite him, and through some unknown compulsion, Stefan breaks its neck. An understandable period of mourning follows, with much wailing. Andreas is doubly traumatized by the death of his beloved cat, and by the knowledge that his lover was the murderer. Unable to comprehend how the man he gave his heart to could have such a violent streak, Andreas freezes him out.
Before the felicide, the two men were always seen together, but now Stefan has been locked out of their bedroom paradise, and helmer Klaus keeps them in separate frames. There’s almost a rapprochement, when Stefan falls while picking plums in their orchard — get it? Eden, fruit, a fall. Presumably apples would have been just too screamingly obvious, which is probably why neither man is named Adam. Still, maybe Moses should have been named Abel? Or Lilith?
The pity is, there’s a lot to like in the early scenes. The music is nicely handled; the general optimism, though overly sunny, is ingratiating; and the sex scenes are honest if perhaps too showily passionate. But pretty quickly, it feels as though Klaus has put everything through some psychoanalytic prism that in truth feels more Jungian than Freudian: It’s fine that the actions don’t always have logical explanations, but the characters, as constructed, fail to fascinate even while the premise retains its merit.
Klaus previously signaled his fascination with repressed emotions and mourning in his debut, “March,” a considerably more glum feature than “Tomcat,” which at least has initially likable people and acknowledges love as a state of grace. On that score, Turtur and Hochmair have a boundlessly energetic chemistry, and they’re not to blame when our interest in Stefan and Andreas wanes. As characters, Lorenz and his closeted b.f., Vladimir (Manuel Rubey, sullen), are more problematic, and their unconvincing side story seems to have been truncated in the editing room.
Widescreen lensing by Gerald Kerkletz (Markus Schleinzer’s “Michael”) nicely captures the expansive intimacy of the couple in their pre-fall stage, as light-filled and airy as the figures themselves. Appropriately, so much space feels empty once the two men move to separate sides of the house. Given that both work for an orchestra (members of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra play their colleagues and friends), music forms a key element, and the selections, from classical to Miles Davis, are well chosen.
-- Review by Jay Weissberg, Variety (http://www.variety.com)