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DIAGONALE 2022

Review: Disappearance

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- Andrina Mračnikar’s documentary about the vanishing of the Slovenian language and culture in Southern Carinthia gets lost amidst the number of topics touched upon but not properly examined

Review: Disappearance

Before World War I, Slovenian was the native language of approximately 90% of the population in the valleys of Southern Carinthia, while today, the number is in the single digits. That is the starting point for Andrina Mračnikar’s documentary Disappearance, which premiered at the Diagonale, where it also won the Audience Award (see the news).

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Mračnikar, who hails from the ranks of the Carinthian Slovene minority, dealt with the topic previously in her early works, such as the short documentary Andri 1924-1944 (2003), which was actually a mix of an essay dealing with a family secret and a portrait of her great-uncle, Carinthian partisan Andri Mračnik, as well as her mid-length documentary The Carinthians Speak German (2006). Language, history and heritage are also the principal, but not the only, topics she touches on in Disappearance.

The history of Carinthia is marked by various events on the fringes of large-scale conflicts. After World War I, a plebiscite was held in certain parts of Southern Carinthia, where the people living there had to decide whether they wanted to live in the newly formed Republic of Austria or in the similarly newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (which would later become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), and they voted 60:40 in favour of staying in Austria. During World War II, the Austrians and Slovenians once again found themselves on different sides of the battle: the Slovenian population was largely deported to the labour and concentration camps by the Austrian and German Nazis, while those who remained largely joined the Slovenian (and Yugoslav) partisans. After the war, the territory remained under Austrian jurisdiction. The country was obliged to grant cultural autonomy to the minority, as was stated in the treaty of 1955, but the pressure from the German-speaking majority continued to be applied, sometimes even escalating to the level of unrest, which was the case with the Ortstafelsturm event in 1972, in which the town signs in Slovenian were knocked over in an act of vandalism and the local population harassed.

For her film, Mračnikar uses interviews with her family members, neighbours and other Slovenian speakers from the area, as well as prominent political figures, such as lawyer Rudi Vouk and politician Valentin Inzko, adding her own thoughts and musings in the voice-over narration and even excerpts from her two earlier documentaries into the mix, packaging everything together in a documentary essay, of sorts.

The trouble with Disappearance is that Mračnikar fails to establish a clear structure, often losing the thread in the number of issues identified and in her repetitions of the same points, so the “essay” label serves more as an excuse for a disjointed film. On the technical side, the main problem lies within the editing, handled by Gerhard Daurer, visible especially in his repeated use of the short stretches of blacked-out screen during the interviews with the filmmaker’s relatives. This is aimed at building up the tension, but it seems artificial, given that they basically come back to the same events over and over again. In the end, the running time, clocking in at 99 minutes, feels tiresome, and another cut (maybe to a mid-length TV format) could possibly fix these issues with Disappearance in the future.

Disappearance is an Austrian-Slovenian co-production by Soleil Film and Vertigo.

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