1960s, somewhere in Austria. Rotzbub (literally, Snotboy) is not really interested in school lessons, taken by the local priest. He spends his days drawing sketches of the teacher, and his evenings trying to look through the window of his buxom neighbour as she undresses for bed. The rest of the day, he helps out in the pub run by his father who lost an arm in the war.
Rotzbub is a talented artist, but he prefers to draw nude cartoons of the neighbour. This is seized upon by an entrepreneurial (and much more spotty than Rotzbub) schoolmate, who takes it upon himself to sell the sketches to his sex-starved classmates. Meanwhile, Rotzbub’s uncle – also an artist – has been commissioned to touch up the mural on the town hall, and asks Rotzbub to mix his paints.
One day, a Traveller and her daughter enter Rotzbub’s father’s pub. She wears striped trousers and an Amy Winehouse beehive. The daughter has freckles and a turned up nose. Pressure from the local Nazis, who all seem to drink there, cause the father to refuse to serve the Travellers, so as not to lose any trade. Nonetheless, Rotzbub is smitten with the daughter Mariolina.
Rotzbub discovers that the town has a second bar, which is run by an amiable hippie who wears a denim jacket, has a jukebox, and used to be a band. He is also happy to serve anyone, including the young Rotzbub who gets pissed and wakes up with a hangover. At the bar, he draws sketches of Mariolina, one of which he gives to the barman.
Did I mention that this is all done in cartoon form? The first scenes are of Rotzbub as a foetus, resisting leaving the warmth of his mother’s womb and entering the wild, scary world. When he is finally forced out, the midwife approaches him with a pair of scissors, ready to cut the fallopian tube. Rotzbub nervously covers his penis with his hands.
With its large breasted women and all the farting, wanking and shitting, Willkommen in Siegheilkirchen could easily have been some sort of Viz film – occasionally funny, but a little too keen on causing offence for the sake of it to have anything much. As it is, it combines charm with social conscience and is equally charming in describing first love and fighting fascism.
All the actors speak with almost impenetrable Austrian rural accents – a cartoon dialect for a cartoon story. This makes what they say often very difficult to follow, although the structure and drawing are well crafted enough for this not to really matter. Besides which, this is a film that is more about mood than what actually happens.
Having said this, there are some important plot points, most notably when the local Nazis plan to firebomb the travellers’ camp where Mariolina and her mother live. Rotzbub has been there before, when he was futilely following Mariola home, but the camp youth made it clear that he wasn’t welcome. Nonetheless, he joins with the friendly bar owner to thwart the racists and to win Mariola’s hand (this is not really a plot spoiler. You would expect nothing else from this film).
The film also takes some pride in lampooning hypocrisy. The townsfolk with right wing tendencies all preach on about morality, but still regularly visit the local sex worker – the same neighbour who Rotzbub lustfully sketches. One evening she tells Rotzbub that she has to do it as she needs the money. Towards the end, with the unveiling of the mural, Rotzbub has his revenge, and justice and satire enjoy a moral victory.
The more I describe the film, the more I realise that on one level it is very insubstantial, and on another this really does not matter. Cartoon is precisely the medium for this sort of caricature, which does not try to convince us that pious moralising is bad, but does hope that we’ve grown out of it by now. There is no problem distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys but there’s something reassuring in that.
Most of all, the drawing is incredibly good. There is no attempt to Disney-ize the characters who appear in all their natural ugliness (ok, apart from the angelic Mariola and her mum). At the end of the film, there is a dedication to the Austrian caricaturist Manfred Deix, who died in 2016, but to whom the film obviously owes a great debt (it is subtitled “The Deix film”). Let’s hope that it helps him gain the recognition he deserves.