According to the fiction feature debut of director Juri Rechinsky, life is ugly. Everyday existence is dark and ultimately futile. The plot of Ugly could, in fact, be briefly summed up as a succession of people, things or images resuscitated or kept alive for apparently no reason at all – except, perhaps, to further this sense of lack and misery that can only lead us to a path towards more misery and suffering.
Ugly revolves around two lovers, Austrian Hanna (Angela Gregovic) and Ukranian Jura (Dmitry Bogdan) and both their families. The geographical and cultural backgrounds of both families are quite different and represented in a somewhat stereotypical way: the Austrians are drunken decadent bourgeois and the Ukrainians are peasants starving for affection. The divide is cartoonish, but the generalization holds up because in the end, as mentioned, they appear the same in the face of an inevitable and somewhat pre-ordained leniency to misery and self-destruction, most of which is decreed by things beyond one’s control.
Such implications are introduced early in the film, through a car crash and the documentation of its direct effect on the lives of its pivotal couple. As the film progresses, it appears to be a statement against the Hippocratic Oath. Alternatively, Ugly may be seen as a descendant of Emile Zola’s naturalism. In other words, it is unmistakably pessimistic. Rechinsky has created a film that offers exactly what it implies through its title. It is a joyless depiction of everyday life. Even an initially comedic sequence of a couple rolling around a bedroom in a drunken and playful private display of sexual debauchery degenerates into a pathetic, vomit-drenched scene.
Every image of the film is cold and brutal. Ugly opens with a trivial and uncomfortable shot of Hanna sitting in a bath of freezing water. This introduces the overall feeling of the film even before the opening title card appears on the screen. Nonetheless, Rechinsky’s directorial imprint makes the whole affair appear constructed with no room for ambivalence. There is a reason why the monster in Frankenstein was allowed to have redeeming features, or why the young victims held captive in the mansion of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo did not whine or cry. Ugly may have been more interesting by hinting at the possibility of some type of alternative form of survival, whether illusory of not. The director, however, is clearly hellbent on maintaining that such alternative does not exist. In doing so, he merely constructs alienating images that are paradoxically similar to the ones projected by most people through Facebook, Instagram, and other social media, only they may possibly allow us to feel better about our lives rather than the other way around – such are the signs of a subjective vision that almost takes pleasure in inflicting pain on its (characters) victims.. – ★★★
UGLY || 2017, Austria / Ukraine || Drama || Directed by – Juri Rechinsky / Produced by – Alexander Glehr / Screenwriter – Klaus Pridnig / Cinematography – Wolfgang Thaler / Edited by – Roland Stottinger / Production design – Conrad Reinhardt / Sound design – Andrey Rogachov / Music – Anton Baibakov / Starring – Angela Gregovic, Maria Hostatter, Dmitriy Bogdan, Raimund Wallisch, Larisa Rusnak, Vlad Troitsky, Valery Bassel / Running time: 90 mins.