> Volume 6 > Number 27


Barbara Albert

Ursula Strauss
Georg Friedrich
Marion Mitterhammer
Martin Brambach
Rupert L. Lehofer
Bellinda Akwa-Asare
Gabriela Schmoll
Dominik Hartel

Release: 23 Jul. 04

Free Radicals


A butterfly flaps its wings and a plane falls from the sky. Itís a variation on the chaos theory that never fully works, which may explain why The Butterfly Effect earlier this year proved to be one of the most idiotic films ever made. Free Radicals, an Austrian answer to Short Cuts and Magnolia bankrupt of creativity, pivots on the unplanned frenzy that a simple moment can put into motion. The plane that crashes at the beginning, and the sole person who survives it, come off as contrivances which stick out in a film more ameliorated by the character development than wink-wink-nudge-nudge pretensions.

The cavalcade of unhappy people living in a small Austrian town is defined enough by the filmís second act, but it never fully rises from the muddle that was its opening. From there on, every little touch -- bad sex, suicide attempts, mall construction -- seems paramount to all the other stories because the audience has been unnerved by that stupid butterfly at the beginning. Itís almost like writer-director Barbara Albert had two short films in mind -- one omnibus film about small-town Austrians, one pretentious film about the Chaos Theory -- and then tried to paste them together when she got funding for a feature film.

Some of the stories are particularly engaging (especially a lonely woman trying to find solace in her choir group), but even when the film rings true, Albert turns to sloppy plot devices that feel forced and, at a few moments, completely far-fetched (the quick out-patient and comparatively minor wounds for a person run over by a train veer close to parody). I fear this is a movie in which the filmmakerís contempt for the audience becomes too clear, and her unwillingness to let anything lay bear for longer than a couple moments is particularly disingenuous. Highlighting stories singly, Lynne Ramsey has already made two films (Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar) that have said volumes more than Free Radicals, and Ramseyís films, believe it or not, are far blither than this artificial neorealism

©2004, David Perry,, 2 July 2004