2006, Movie, NR, 88 mins


Viennese writer-director Barbara Albert's portrait of five former school friends who reunite for the funeral of a beloved teacher treads much the same ground as THE RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN (1980) and THE BIG CHILL (1983), unfolding at the point where youthful ambitions and ideals meet the reef of adult life's compromises, enervating detours and quotidian disappointments.

Thirteen years after they graduated high school, former best friends Alex (Ursula Strauss), Nina (Nina Proll), Carmen (Kathrin Resetarits), Nicole (Gabriela Hegedus) — who's accompanied by her adolescent daughter, Daphne (Ina Strnad) — and Brigitte (Birgit Minichmayr) gather in a small Austrian town to mourn Michael, the teacher with whom they studied choral singing. After the service they decide to attend a wine tasting at a local vineyard owned by another former classmate, but get sidetracked when they stop at a casual open-air restaurant and run into a wedding party. The groom, Norbert (Georg Friedrich) — one of flighty Nina's many ex-boyfriends — invites them all to join the celebration. Liberal consumption of alcohol brings tp the surface the simmering tensions between the women, none more so than the rift between the pregnant Nina, whose post-school life has been a series of meaningless jobs and unrealized dreams of opening her own business, and Carmen, whom she feels cut off her old friendships once her acting career took off. Sleek Alex, who works for a job-placement center, drinks too much and has a prescription-drug problem; sour-faced Brigitte is the only one of the group who's retained a commitment to political activism, and doesn't hesitate to voice her disappointment with the others; Nicole, the crunchy earth-mother who appears to have no filter between her mind and her mouth, is dead broke. As the night wears on, the increasingly disinhibited women bitch and reminisce and cut a little too loose for comfort before coming face-to-face with the truth and the lies about their school days.

Charging Albert's film with looking too much like an American chick flick is to give it short shrift: For all the drinking, dancing and group hugs, by the end of their 36-hour trip down memory lane, the women's problems remain unresolved and poisonous secrets are still leaking out. If there's a cure for what ails them, it's less in renewing old relationships than in realizing that a lot of life's unhappiness eventually works itself out. That's not the stuff of Hollywood endings, but it's an awful lot like life. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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