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Friday, November 30, 2018

AGONY -- DVD Review by Porfle

We know from the opening foreword that a murder will be committed--a young Viennese man will kill and dismember a girl and distribute the parts in various places.  But the film immediately begins to follow the lives of not one, but two disaffected young Viennese men, Christian and Alex, and it's up to us to figure out not just who the murderer will be, but his motive as well.

Which makes the 2016 German/Austrian production AGONY (aka "Agonie"), by talented director and co-writer David Clay Diaz in his feature debut, not just a whodunnit but a whydunnit.

We first meet Alex (Alexander Srtschin), an angry young man just sprung from either the military or juvenile prison (I wasn't sure which) and dumped back into lower-class society to return to a troubled family and few prospects.

He's hostile and endlessly aggressive, always working out and practicing his boxing skills, always wishing there were someone there for his flashing fists to connect with.

Then there's Christian (Samuel Schneider), a law student living unhappily with his single mother. Unlike Alex, Christian is quiet, reserved, restrained, and painfully repressed.  A concession stand worker in a theater, he studiously attends legal classes with high hopes of becoming a judge.  We're not so sure how realistic these hopes are.

Christian meets a girl from his class named Sandra (Alexandra Schmidt) and they form a relationship which features rough, mutually abusive sex.  Also unlike Alex, this seems to be Christian's only avenue for releasing the pent-up aggression that comes from desperation and a growing sense that he will never succeed in any of his goals.

The film shows us chunks of each man's life in turn, each unrelated to the other save for their potential to reach that breaking point which will lead to irrational violence.  Alex strikes out against romantic rivals, the police, his gruff father (who tries clumsily to help him but already has one foot out the door), girls who taunt and reject him, and even his best friend, Julian, the only person in his life with whom he feels comfortable.

Christian, meanwhile, is the quiet one who gives us pause when we fear what roiling emotions may lurk behind his passive demeanor.  He's belittled by inferiors at work (a pimply nerd orders him around in front of Sandra and her friends while he's on the job) and treated as a child by his mother. Sex with Sandra seems urgent, joyless, and physically threatening.

In other words, AGONY keeps us in suspense the whole time as it makes us suffer through the dreary lives of these two unrelated dead-end characters (the monotony of which is broken only by unfortunate events) as each heads for what appears to be a sad end.  Which, for one of them, will include an unimaginably heinous crime.

AGONY makes us gaze into the abyss of their lives to try and discern which of these apparent sociopaths will turn psychopath and what will provoke it. It's a fascinating, finely-wrought film, yet joyless, and we never really become invested enough in Christian or Alex to care deeply what happens to them beyond a sour feeling of lingering sadness.  That, and a curdled, disheartening pessimism. 

Format: 2:1, Stereo, Color, NTSC
Language: German
Subtitles: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)
Number of discs: 1
Not Rated
Studio: Indiepix Films
DVD Release Date: November 27, 2018
Run Time: 93 minutes
Extras: Trailer


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