Andreas Gruber’s Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs‘ titular character, Johanna Berger (Nike Seitz), wants to enter a proto-Eurovision singing contest. Quite alarming. That’s according to her mother Katharina (Franziska Weisz), prefers to lay low and go to mass on Sundays. It’s as if she emphasizes her Catholicism to hide what everyone in town and watching the film already knows. Of course, the person who blurts it out is an alcoholic who does so while trying to rape Hanna. The women of of her family, as she finds out, marry German men to hide their Jewish heritage. And the film would have benefited from not being obtuse about this.
Eventually I got over the fact that this film tried to use ethnicity as a secret. It’s a plot device better movies like Ida have used. And it does shatter the misconceptions about Jewish people. Especially it subverts the idea that they got the upper hand after being the survivors of history’s biggest war crime. Gruber sets the film in the late 1960’s. That’s a decade or more before the overhaul in the education system of Germanic countries. At best the Austrian characters act like a people experiencing a collective hangover, at worst they’re abusing a family.
I do commend Gruber for building a sense of dread even though we know what’s coming. The audience can feel the tenseness in Weisz and the observant nature in Seitz’ performance. Seitz makes for a great audience surrogate, complementing the film’s delicate tone. There are also a few cues that seem more horrifying than what the older characters’ have experienced. A greeting from an unwanted neighbour, the piano playing stray notes, characters speaking in whispers. But of course Hanna’s grandmother Ruth (Hannelore Ensler) says it best. “At some point, everything comes out and blows up in your face.”