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DOK LEIPZIG 2020

Review: 80,000 Schnitzels

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- Hanna Schweier's semi-autobiographical documentary reveals an unexpected inner conflict in the story of her sister trying to save their family's inn and farm

Review: 80,000 Schnitzels

When you read the title of German director Hannah Schweier's first feature-length documentary, 80,000 Schnitzels, it is safe to assume that the film has to do with hospitality and probably a grandmother. But one does not necessarily expect a multi-layered family saga that, through a story of past generations connected to an inn (gasthaus), also explores the nature of our desires, expectations and dreams.

Zollhaus is a gasthaus with a farm in the Upper Palantine region of Bavaria, owned by the family of the filmmaker and run by her grandma Berta, and is on the brink of bankruptcy. When she starts shooting the film, her younger sister Monika has decided to salvage the place. Hanna follows Berta and Monika for a year.

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Split into seasonal chapters, the film begins in autumn and through the director's very direct, no-nonsense voice-over, we start learning of the gasthaus’ history. It was founded and initially run by Berta's husband, after whom one of her sons, the brother of Hanna and Monika's mother, took over, only to die at the age of 55 without managing to complete any of the improvements he invested in. Sunken in debt, Zollhaus went to the uncle's son, who died of alcohol poisoning at only 25. Finally, only Berta remained to manage the place, cook meals for the guests and change sheets, while a couple of workers take care of the farm and its cows, bringing some little income from selling dairy products.

Berta accepts Monika's offer to help, but does not always agree with her plans. The inn still owes a lot of money, and the old woman insists on running it as she always had, while the granddaughter realises that more modern-style apartments with kitchens where guests can make their own food would be more suitable. This is one of the sources of tension for this odd pair of women.

But the main conflict of the film lies within the director and her sister themselves. This is something we learn about in the winter chapter, through a back story about their childhood. Their father was a man who loved to travel and was always chasing that perfect moment. He would take his family on many trips, and this is where Monika and Hannah got used to the excitement of constant changes. This fed into their dreams for their futures. Monika wanted to be a doctor and biological researcher who would find cures for illnesses, and Hannah would eventually win a Palme d'Or, if not an Oscar.

Now in their late thirties, the two women ask themselves if those dreams could ever be fulfilled. Actually, it is Hannah who introduces this theme in the film and does not speak to Monika directly about it. Instead, her self-reflection, accompanied by home videos in which we see the sisters in various stages of childhood and teen age, is supported by Berta's presence and her old-fashioned ideas about when a woman should get married and have kids. These ideas do not seem that antiquated to the director anymore, and Monika has thrown herself into the work on the gasthaus like she earlier did into medicine.

Schweier's attitude is very tough towards all members of her family, but most so towards herself. This is one of the reasons why the film often feels somewhat rough and forced, but nevertheless very frank.

80,000 Schnitzels, which world-premiered at the 63rd International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film DOK Leipzig and won the ver.di Prize for Solidarity, Humanity and Fairness, is a co-production of Berlin-based Zum Goldenen Lamm and ZDF.

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