QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Based on the real story of Franz Streitberger, this extremely moving Austro-German production is one of the best animal-human bonding dramas you will ever see. It is no secret to animals lovers that such creatures can bring out the most human and humane feelings that we possess, allowing us to connect with our intimate selves more candidly and thoroughly. The knowledge that this story takes during the period of history when the sentiment of humanity was at its scarcest makes the fifth feature by 31-year-old Austrian director Adrian Goiginger even more urgent and effective. This is a timeless and universal film, despite being born of very specific place and moment in time.
The movie starts in 1927 in the lush mountains or rural Austria, namely the Pinzgau Region. Franz’s parents give up their son Franz to a rich farmer, who educates but also forces him into child and adolescent labour. He leaves the farm without blinking 10 years later (as soon as he reaches legal age), in an attitude described by his disgruntled employer as ungrateful. In reality, Franz is an extremely and sensitive male. He travels to Salzburg and promptly enlists voluntarily for the army, the only occupation that seems to offer both financial stability and job security at the time. Three years later (in 1940), the 20-something-year-old is sent to fight on the Western Front. The young soldiers are blithely unaware of the dimensions of the War, dreaming of returning home instead. They are encouraged to fight with “their head up”. Their superiors encourage tell: “you are part of a big family, and also of something much bigger”. They are given copious amounts Pervitin (the brand name for methamphetamine) and urged to conquer the nasty “Frenchies”.
The Nazis in The Fox are not as evil as in your average Hollywood film. They don’t come surrounded by flames and with a maniacal laughter. Instead they are represented as naive human beings who have been brainwashed, and have no idea about the magnitude of what they are doing. They remain mostly oblivious to the wicked ambitions and shockingly perverse tactics of their mythical Fuehrer. At one point, a German soldier searches for Jews in France, however there is no indication that Franz and the other young soldiers know their intended destination and inescapable fate. Strangely, however, I don’t think the word “Nazi” is ever used in the film.
One day during a walk in the forest, Franz finds a crying fox cub next to its dead mother. He promptly adopts the animal, successfully concealing “foxy” in his backpack and then in a makeshift hideout in the manor-house-tuned-barracks temporarily used to house his Battalion. The easily startled animal runs back into the woods just as the troops prepare to depart for combat, leaving a desperate Franz scrambling to find her. Luckily his intuition does not let him down, and the two friends are soon reunited. However Franz actions could have very serious consequences for him, as his failure to leave with the other soldier as could be interpreted as a gesture of desertion.
Foxy becomes a token of humanity and hope at times of darkness. Franz successfully conceals his best friend for some time, despite the many twists and turns that his life takes as he continues to serve in the mostly deadly conflict in the history of mankind. Meanwhile, the young man writes a letter for his father, but he hesitates to post it. Why should he attempt to reconnect with the man who relinquished him? And perhaps far more crucially: would Franz ever abandon foxy? He does survive the war and returns to Austria, but this is about how much as I can tell you without spoiling the ending.
The Fox has just premiered in the Official Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. An essential film for anyone with a scintilla of kindness in their hearts. The fact that I have a chihuahua daughter of virtually the same size and colour as the film protagonist makes me ever more vulnerable. Just make sure to bring your hankies, regardless of whether you have a pet or not!