Simon Fruhwirth, Paul Forman, Josef Hader
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…hard-hitting and confronting…
The lurid way adolescence is captured in 2019 Austrian psychological queer film Nevrland seems more suited to the work of Lewis Carroll than it does with Peter Pan. (Heck, given the current treatment of the title it could have just as easily been called Wondrland).
Living with his father and grandfather (whom he acts as the caregiver to), seventeen-year-old Jakob (Simon Frühwirth) drifts in and out of imaginary worlds to cope with his crippling anxiety. His fascination with space, an endless dark recess that is all-consuming, mirrors his own internal feelings of emptiness.
Jakob’s inability to connect on an intimate level, citing discomfort when not staring down the rabbit hole of the internet, leads him to live out his sexual desires online. It is here where he is introduced to the elusive Kristjan (Paul Forman), a chiselled, twenty-six-year old artist who admires Jakob as though he were a Michelangelo sculpture, via a video cam chat website. Kristjan’s fascination with Jakob stems from Jakob’s crimson red birthmark that stretches across his chest. Kristjan’s objectification of Jakob allows him to overlook their age-gap – see Call Me By Your Name. If things weren’t already complicated enough for Jakob, his emotions escalate as he and Kristjan connect at a deeper level.
The harrowing build-up enables director Gregor Schmidinger to craft a potent exploration on sexuality through the gaze of a young man on the brink of adulthood. Here is a director that explores characters with a thorough understanding of mental illness and the anguish it exhumes. The most impressive example of this being in Schmidinger’s intertwining of dream and reality sequences that effectively jolt Jakob in and out of nightmares as though he – along with the viewer – were falling backwards on a chair.
The heartbeat of anxiety is brought to life by a deafening electronic score that is complemented by garish cinematography that further defines Jakob’s emotional instability. Frühwirth delivers a sincere and vulnerable performance in a film otherwise devoid of lightness. The harrowing extent of Nevrland’s darkness coming into full bloom in a dramatic final sequence that feels like a sweat-inducing, hallucinogenic fever dream that realises the extent humans turn to for mental absolution.
With no Tinkerbell or pirates with missing limbs in sight, Jakob’s need for release is perhaps the only connection Nevrland can draw from the source material it is named after. A consideration that when comparing the motivations of Jakob to Peter Pan would see the latter come across as insular – a courtesy of Nevrland’s hard-hitting and confronting composition.