Channeling the aesthetics of a tasteful European art film, yet thumbing its nose at haute-bourgeois institutions, Soldate Jeannette depicts the disillusioned failure of materialism as it pushes its grass-is-greener agenda. Ostensible enfant terrible Daniel Hoesl sets up his own progressive dilemmas, as well, focusing more on visuals than content to explore the repulsion and allure of both urban and pastoral life vis-à-vis two women moving past each other in diametric life directions. The writer-director’s impressive yet slightly simplistic film is primarily concerned with dichotomies, two in particular: bourgeois and proletariat, and humanity and nature. This conceit of binary opposition is also evident in the structure of the film, which is split into two highly postured environments: dignified urban interiors and, in the latter half, bucolic landscapes.
In the opening scene we meet Fanni (the marvelous Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg)—a fashionable woman full of wry, icy expressions—in a posh boutique, trying on crocodile shoes and an expensive leopard-print dress (the animal-based attire rings some early thematic bells). After placing the payment on a credit card, Fanni sternly sashays out of the store and promptly drops the newly purchased couture in a trash can. This is a definitive sign of rebellion to come, yet Fanni blithely floats through her day, visiting an art gallery, napping through a matinee of Vivre Sa Vie (ironic, given Hoesl’s cheeky hints at Godard-esque socialist solidarity), going to the spa, and dining with oblivious rich friends (perhaps with the intent of swindling them out of their cushy trust money). Soon, Fanni is evicted from her luxurious apartment after failure to pay rent for three months and heads for the Austrian mountains (after purchasing trendy trekking boots, of course), and literally burns any remaining Euros she can get her hands on. After being picked up by a farmer (and soon-to-be-discovered obnoxious chauvinist) and brought back to a farming commune, Fanni meets Anna (Christina Reichsthaler), who’s eager to escape her life of hay and hogs, leading to a dual portrait of two women unsatisfied with their birth-bound lifestyles; Fanni catches Anna trying on one of her dresses, and the two slowly developing a quiet friendship as they transition through opposing ideological statuses.
As a screenwriter, Hoesl has a strong ear for the risibility of haute-bourgeois speak, adopting a deadpan attitude toward an oblivious woman (initially seen just as a close-up on her pearl necklace) prattling on about her entitled, multilingual children and a waitress listing absurdly decadent dessert specials. Considering the über-distinguished tone that remains in the countryside-set second half, it’s difficult not to consider that the depiction may belie a more problematic nature, with Hoesl fighting fashion with fashion, nearly fetishizing the graphic slaughter of cows and pigs, unflinchingly aestheticizing the down-and-out lifestyle of the working class. To his credit, Hoesl is nonetheless able to evoke compelling observations, exhibiting a purely perceptive sensibility, refined yet streamlined, reminiscent of Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté. Rah-rah revolutionary moxie drives much of the proceedings (in a sterile art gallery, Fanni even observes that “the art of rioting has vanished from our parliament”), and yet the acerbic flouting of high culture and wealth-as-identity is slightly undermined by the film’s rigid formalism. At once a brilliantly deadpan takedown of materialism and somber art film, Soldate Jeannette confronts its contradictions, but occasionally at the cost of its own contrasting portraits.