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Award-winning Austrian drama investigates the pain of being deeply closeted, while also highlighting the joy of being openly gay in the military - powerful, uplifting, and incredibly heart-warming film shows at WatchAUT: Austrian Film Festival

Based on true events, David Wagner’s Eismayer focuses on the life of Vice Lieutenant Eismayer (Gerhard Liebmann), a model macho man and the most feared authority figure in the Austrian military. The newest group of recruits are about to enter the barracks and be greeted by the intimidating Eismayer for the first time, and one of those new recruits is Mario Falak (Luka Dimic), an openly gay man with high career aspirations. Mario is, to a tee, the modern gay man; someone who doesn’t care about what anyone says about him and has also gained respect from his peers because of his own self-confidence.

As the story begins to unwind, Eismayer’s true secret is revealed: he is a closeted gay man and deeply troubled because of it. He is jealous of Falak’s confidence and his carefree attitude to his own sexuality, something that Eismayer can only dream of having. It’s not long before Eismayer begins to fall for Falak, and the two embark on a secret relationship away from prying eyes and judgemental looks – the confined space of the military only intensifies the unapproving views that the world has regarding two men falling in love.

When you first sit down to watch this film (and if you don’t know the real story of course) you might think it to be just a dark story about the frustrations of a closeted gay man and how he takes this out on everyone around him. But you will soon realise that this is a love story that is as sweet as anything else this year. The journey that Eismayer travels down in front of your eyes is incredibly empowering. He’s a man that has struggled with his sexuality since he was a child (a story he tells his wife after outing himself). His parents did not approve and sent him away, his sham marriage to his wife was used, in his own words, “to help cure me”. The evolution he undertakes after finally coming to terms with who he is is very powerful; his confidence shines through, and not only does he become nicer to his recruits.

The film is excellent at representing the military as well. It is a cruel and unforgiving place at times, and Wagner’s portrayal of the barrack life feels largely authentic. But the greatest depiction might just be the evolution of military life and the progression that has occurred over the years. Once upon a time, the military would have been no place for openly gay men, but what this film does perfectly is highlight those changing winds of approval in modern Army life. Eismayer’s superior officer even picks up on the Lieutenant’s supposed homophobia by exclaiming “do you have something against homosexuals” – it is worded in such a way that welcomes men of all sexual orientations and attempts to poke holes in the old-school methods of Eismayer’s rule.

This is an interesting movie with a subtly powerful story. It doesn’t break new ground with anything outstanding; technically it’s sound, the acting is on point, and there’s nothing to really shout home about in terms of the visual experience, but it’s all about the narrative and its message. The way it represents the frustrations of this man is magnificent; the struggle in his eyes and how he battles difficult circumstances every day to keep his secret bottled up. The performance from Leibmann is key to this as well, with the character’s face beginning to soften, and his eyes becoming more relaxed – his later self is a complete contrast to what you see in the film’s earlier stages.

This is a must-see film for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, but really, it’s a must-watch for anyone who believes in tolerance. It comes from such an unlikely source, and that’s what makes it more meaningful and heart-warming, and it’s happily ever after, true-to-life material is really just the cherry on top of this already extremely encouraging film.

Eismayer premiered at WatchAUT – the Austrian Film Festival.

By John McDonald - 25-03-2023

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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