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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

7 February

Maastricht Treaty signed, 1992

On this day in 1992, the Treaty on European Union, aka the Maastricht Treaty, was signed by members of the European Community, in Maastricht, Netherlands. Its purpose, as its name suggests, was to create a union of Europe. It proposed and established three pillars of the Treaty –the European Community, a common foreign and security policy and a similar arrangement for justice and home affairs. In effect it formalised arrangements that had already existed, but it also extended them – the European Community was the continuation of the European Economic Community, with the “Economic” being dropped to reflect broader unificatory ideals. The Maastricht Treaty also in effect created the common currency, the Euro.

Import/Export (2007, dir: Ulrich Seidl)

Bleak but spiked with glittering flashes of jet, Ulrich Seidl’s drama looks at both sides of what used to be called the Iron Curtain and surmises that life at the bottom is pretty shitty whether you’re in the rich West or the poor East.

The Import/Export tag is all about the to and fro between the two and is made flesh in two characters. We meet attractive single mum Olga (Ekateryna Rak) whose job as a nurse out in the Ukraine isn’t bringing home enough cash, so she starts working part-time doing webcam sex for the world’s online masturbators. Unable to handle the degradation, she parks her child with her mother and takes a bus to Austria (Seidl’s homeland) to start more lucrative work as a cleaner. Before you get the bunting out, things aren’t exactly rosy there either. Going in the other direction is Pauli (Paul Hofmann) an Austrian supermarket security guard who quits his job after being ritualistically humiliated by a gang of thugs in a subterranean car park. Which is why he ends up with his stepfather (Michael Thomas) humping aged Space Invaders machines into the old Eastern Bloc, where the glittery lights are expected to prise hard-won money out of poor workers’ hands – allegory for capitalism entirely obvious.

This would be an unbearable film to watch if it weren’t for Seidl’s matter-of-fact eye for tough comedy – Olga is a hopeless internet camgirl, and Pauli and his stepfather’s cackhandedness getting heavy awkward machines into and out of their battered van will raise a grim chuckle too. As will Michael’s attempt to co-opt Pauli into an evening of appallingly tawdry sex with reluctant but cash-strapped girls out East. And there’s a scene late on at a geriatric ball, the oldsters all with painted faces, funny hats and winking bow ties, that is Fellini-esque in its surreality. Still, the “it’s all always about money, right?” observation makes Import/Export a tough though thoughtful journey to places most of us would rather not go.

Why Watch?

  • Ekateryna Rak’s excellent performance
  • Seidl went on to make the Paradise trilogy
  • A clear-eyed counter to the stream of Ostalgia flicks at the time
  • Seidl’s technique of deliberately over-extending the most discomfiting scenes

Import/Export – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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