Certain Hollywood directors - Michael Bay comes to mind - are often accused of making formulaic, cliché ridden nonsense with no intellectual depth.
"Superficial!", "Awful!", "Merde!" the critics might say.
But what about the other side?
Somehow, the film-makers of what is broadly termed ‘the left’ tend to avoid such accusations. There is a presumption that whatever the other problems are with such films, intellectual superficiality isn’t among them.
Well, if ‘Import/Export’ proves anything it is that Ulrich Seidl is equally as guilty as preaching to his own choir as Bay, albeit via intellectual pretension and deliberate obliqueness instead of big explosions and always letting the good looking guy get the attractive girl.
Films need either a good story or a very good reason for not having one if they are to work. This has neither.
'Import/Export' deals with two main characters (who never meet).
First, there is the young, pretty Ukrainian Olga (Rak), who leaves her job as a nurse and part-time Internet sex worker for a new life in Austria. Driven there by money worries, she soon ends up working in various roles at the bottom of the cleaning industry. Ultimately, she is taken on in a menial role by a psychiatric institution.
Opposite her is Pauli (Hofmann), a thoroughly dislikeable Austrian youth who through a combination of laziness and arrogance can’t seem to get on in his homeland. Eventually, he also ends up leaving. Eventually, he winds up in Ukraine, where, like Olga, he ends up looking for a better life.
Are they meant to be seen as opposites? Both are somewhat selfish - Olga for leaving her child and Pauli for a whole of host of mildly despicable personality crimes - and both encounter unfairness, inequality and indifference. A series of contrasts are drawn, and Seidl seeks to reveal the warping effects of politics and culture on sex, while also shining a light on the dynamics of lower class and immigrant life.
In the end, though, Olga is by far the more sympathetic character, and her story is the more engaging.
Ultimately, we learn little more than that life in working class Austria is quite grim, if slightly less grim than Ukraine. Which is really grim.
Maybe there is some depth to this, but the means by which the intellectual substance is delivered is so dreadful - pacing and narrative flow seem to have been dirty words in the editing suite - and the overall effect so depressing as to make you wonder why they bothered.
The subject matter is interesting, and the actors’ performances notable for their honesty and integrity, but this just doesn’t add up to being anything much at all.