British theater cinema of the 1950s was famed for its “kitchen sink” realism, working class movies that showed how people really lived . “Look Back in Anger” and “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and the like set their stories against the struggles of coping with post-war austerity in Broke Britannia.
And it wasn’t just the Brits who survived the war who endured those years. The only novelty of writer-director Fritz Urschitz’s “Where I Belong,” his homage to “kitchen sink” cinema, is that the young woman living with her old, unemployable and deluded father is Austrian. They were expats who fled their homeland when Hitler’s Germany annexed the (mostly) willing Austrians in the 1938 “Anschluss.”
If you’ve ever wondered at the plight of Austrians not named Von Trapp, who only got as far as Britain in fleeing the Nazis, here’s your answer. Rosemarie (Natalie Press of “Suffragette”) and her father Friedrich (veteran character player Matthias Habich of “Downfall,” “Enemy at the Gates” and “The Reader”) spent the war interned as “enemy aliens,” stuck in a camp from 1939-45.
Now it’s 1959, and 20something Rosemarie is still struggling to find her place and plan her future. She works in a haberdashery during the day and attends secretarial school at night, but loves dancing to the newfangled rock’n roll with her few friends.
But time has stood still at home. Her father is obsessed with being compensated for the big house they fled in Vienna. He has no lawyer, and is getting nowhere with an Austrian government that tried to pretend they were an “occupied” country, and that they didn’t turn a blind eye to properties that illegally changed-hands when people fearing fascism or the coming Holocaust fled.
“I will not give in,” her father assures Rosemarie (in German with English subtitles). “I will get our property back!”
Rosemarie isn’t counting on it. She has the vague outline of a plan — pass her exams, get a job in London, start her life…finally.
Then an old acquaintance of her father’s, an old “friend” from the camp, shows up at their door. Anton, given an oily Old World charm by Johannes Krisch (“A Hidden Life,””In the Fade,” “The Tobacconist”), was younger than her father, and has made something of himself. He has a car. He has means.
And it’s not coincidence when he shows up to buy fabric for a tailored suit at the shop where Rosemarie works. Unlike the English boy she’s half-interested in, Anton can show her things, maybe even buy her things.
Unpolished and plain, she is flattered by the attention.
Urschitz’s debut feature takes a sharp turn into straight melodrama from that point on, with every obstacle, pitfall and poor choice pre-ordained. The drab interiors and exteriors mirror the dramatically flat odyssey that our heroine embarks on.
There’s more to stories told in this era than just milieu, and that’s where Urschitz comes up short. The performances are fine, but trapped within the parameters of a script that lacks imagination and spark. Urschitz, who hasn’t made a film since this 2012 release, leaves promising avenues unexplored, lapsing into over-familiar plot turns.
Take away the citizenship status of the principals, and “Where I Belong” could be any other late ’50s slice-of-life melodrama with only the German conversations separating it from decades of far more compelling and novel stories.
MPA Rating: unrated, sex, nudity
Cast: Natalie Press, Johannes Krisch, Matthias Habich
Credits: Written and directed by Fritz Urschitz. A Corinth Films release.
Running time: 1:30