Director: Ulrich Seidl (Germany, France, Austria). Year of Release: 2022.
When my parents retired, they moved to Bridlington, a small town on the North English coast. Once upon a time, Bridlington was full of families for several months of the year, and closed at Winter. With the advent of cheap flights and the effective privatisation of British Rail, it is now cheaper for families to holiday in Southern Europe, meaning that Bridlington is closed pretty much all year round. It is pretty grim. But it is not as grim as Rimini.
Rimini, the film, takes place in Rimini, the place, close season. The beaches are cold and empty. There are occasional half full coaches of tourists who sit in small audiences to watch half-rat acts like Schlager singer Richie Bravo. Richie is ageing, putting on weight and has long bleached hair. He may have been good once and still hits the notes, more or less. But watching him sing to a tiny audience to music playing from a background tape is somewhat depressing.
Richie’s father has creeping dementia and lives in a home in Austria. His mother has recently died. And now Tessa has just turned up, clad in a leather jacket and a lot of attitude. At first, Richie thinks that Tessa is a fan, even though she’s a generation or two younger than anyone else at the concert. Richie does what he does with all his fans, and makes a pass at her. When Tessa explains that she’s the daughter he abandoned a long time ago, he doesn’t look remotely ashamed.
Tessa is mad that her father hasn’t paid the slightest bit of attention in her for well over a decade, and hasn’t even bothered to find out where she is. Now it’s reparations time. She demands compensation for all the child benefit not paid, all the Christmas and birthday presents never given, all the neglect. Tessa has a boyfriend in tow, who glares at Richie menacingly, and it’s clear that something is going to have to give.
But Richie is skint. Although he lives in a big house, with life size photos of himself in his pomp on nearly every wall, he’s not drawing in the crowds any more. On top of that, he has a serious drink habit, and his trips to the bar for “just one grappa” usually end up lasting all night. Richie is already having to supplement his income by sleeping with his fans for money, and his fan base consists of women even older than he is. Cue some scenes of old people having sex.
Maybe there is a political point behind the scenes – that you’re never too old to have a sex life, but they felt to me like a gratuitous attempt to shock. We just don’t have enough invested in Richie, or his sleeping partners, to let them enjoy their fun. Instead it felt that we were being asked to feel superior, to feel that our lives might not be going swimmingly, but at least we’re not old people paying to have sex with each other. Other views are permissible, but I, for one, wasn’t convinced.
Still, at least in these scenes, something happens. For most of the time, we follow Richie through his dull routine in the last resort. This is a man who used to be a player (or maybe he was only ever a player in his wildest imagination), but now sings songs for an audience that is restricted to people who, like himself, have not moved on. The fact that he abuses the local refugees, imploring the women to take off their headscarves, does not make him any more likeable.
And this is before he really crosses the line, filming a sexual encounter with one of his fans in order to raise some blackmail money to pay off Tessa. Again, there is a mixture of predictability and tastelessness. I know that not all leading characters need to be loveable, but this is someone we are being encouraged to like. And yet it’s hard to find any redeeming features in him. All he is is is an entitled man impotently watching his age and belly grow.
Throughout the film, I was unnerved, and not in a good way. How exactly are we supposed to respond to Richie? With contempt? Disdain? Or worse? Are we supposed to like him and wish him well in his sordid endeavours? He has a certain louche charm, but obviously much less than he used to. Is the point of Rimini that we feel pity for an alcoholic racist because he’s sunk much further than we have? If so, is this really worth making a film about?
Finally, a word about the Arab characters, presumably refugees, who are there to be seen but not heard. Tessa’s boyfriend just glares menacing from afar. The others just hang around, posing a threat of “those people coming over here”, without us getting any sense of who they are or what they think. Just as Richie swears that he isn’t a racist, while continually making racist statements, this feels like a film that wants to talk about race, while it only lets white people speak.
I’m now boring myself by saying that there is a certain type of film that does well in the Berlinale, and gets a good critical response, but is almost impossible to watch. Here is another such film to join a growing list. The main problem is not that Rimini is not funny and has little dramatic tension, although it isn’t and it doesn’t. It’s more that you feel it was made by people who feel superior to the people they are depicting. I don’t think I want to join in such arrogant superciliousness.