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The village of Hochwald is high up in the alps, only accessible by cable car or long, winding car journeys. In a German-speaking and conservative part of South Tyrol, this is a place firmly stuck in its ways. It’s definitely not a great place to be gay. For Mario (Thomas Prenn), who dreams of being a dancer on the television channel Rai 1, the atmosphere in the village — filled with lederhosen and oompah music — stifles his ambition.
It doesn’t help that his best friend Lenz (Noah Saavedra) is more interesting, more handsome, more intelligent and more liked than Mario. Much to Mario’s sadness, he is heading off to Rome, where he has been offered a scholarship. But Mario also sees this as an opportunity: perhaps he can also follow Lenz — with whom he shares a certain sexual tension — and finally realise his dream…
Not in Why Not You. It takes a severely dramatic left-field turn when the two men meet up in a gay club. Inspired by the Bataclan attacks, they are crashed and shot at by a group of fundamental Islamic terrorists. This introduces a third culture clash — not only Italian style versus Austrian conservatism, but both of those things combined against pure terrorist homophobia. Lenz is killed, leaving Mario alone to pick up the pieces and make sense of his life.
Post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself in a variety of messy ways. It’s up to the creators of a film to try and corral those contradictory feelings into riveting drama. But here, Mario is more or less the same both before and after the accident, making him somewhat of a flat character. His random changes in behaviour, dress and temperament seem to be ways to make the film interesting and create a sense of contrast with his surrounding world, yet they never really manages to get us inside Mario’s head and sympathise with his plight.
The film is about so many different things — class, race, religion, drug addiction and sexual orientation. In trying to combine them all together, it ends up saying little of interest about any of these key conflicts. It’s a shame because there is so much potential in some of these intersecting ideas — especially when Mario takes a sudden interest in the lessons of Islam — but they aren’t picked up and developed in any meaningful way. While its heart seems to be in the right place, especially in its condemnation of hatred, and its nuanced portrayal of Islam, the sheer amount of different conflicts makes the film difficult to get into.
A large part of Why Not You’s ambition rests upon the shoulders of Thomas Prenn, a young actor who doesn’t seem to have the immense range that such a complicated and nuanced role needs. Even if a character’s actions don’t make sense, we at least need them to have a believable screen presence. Mario — who isn’t even a good dancer — never quite pops off the screen; giving this Alpine drama far more valleys than peaks.
Why Not You plays out of competition at the first feature strand of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 13th to 29th November.