Review: A Millionaire’s Melancholy

Film still from "A Millionaire's melancholy" Copyright Caspar Pfaundler
A Millionaire’s Melancholy. Film still. D: Caspar Pfaundler

There is something quite irresistible in the introductory information that „Cinema Povero“ presents „A Millionaire’s Melancholy”, a film by the Austrian director Caspar Pfaunder which in its core proves the old proverb that money doesn’t buy happiness. Its main protagonist Dr.Haid, the millionaire by chance and a typical Viennese “Grantler”, never happy, slightly moaning, self-referencing man in mid-70‘s, could be just any of the town’s local bar regulars exchanging his daily repertoire of  petty sorrows with other customers, except that he isn’t.

Occasionally speaking in the third person about himself, he gives a long account of his life and circumstances that led him to inherit a huge residential building in one of Vienna’s most noble districts. Hit by a curse & blessing of wealth unasked for, but also not questioning the option of giving it away, Dr. Haid is speaking of his only friend whom he calls by the family name Bottler, and the tenants that “take advantage of his good nature”. He indeed seems to be  easy to convince in one thing or the other, and one of the tenants – Gerald – appears a couple of times in the film, an odd customer who obviously initiated a brothel-like business in the building. It is while speaking to him that Dr. Haid reveals parts of his own dark past, as a dealer who got caught only once and an adventurer, but also a young man  who sought help for his heavy depression at his master’s Padawan at the age of 28. The thoughts he is uninterruptedly rolling out are interconnecting the past and present in his own personal attempt to comprehend what’s happening inside of his head, and the stories bounce back to the family history, to the mother and the aunt he owes his wealth to.

Dr. Haid eyeing his friend Bottler who’s in the middle of explaining life. Film still from “A Millionaire’s Melancholia”. Copyright Caspar Pfaundler

Before being sucked into the life of the depressed millionaire , the audience is met with the confusing opening 15 minutes which represent exactly the very visit of the strangest tenant to his eccentric landlord, preceded with a long telephone conversation surrounding problems with some of the apartments in the building. In a mixture of cross-examining and lecturing, Dr. Haid begins revealing more about himself than about his interlocutor.    

The camera is static, and the audience sporadically hears Pfaundler’s voice questioning his subject’s statements, sometimes explaining to him with the calmness of a psychiatrist why his life isn’t all that black. “A Millionaire’s Melancholy” never once leaves Dr. Haid’s apartment, only switching a couple of times from one room to the other, and – so to speak – from a couch to an armchair.  The dialogues are obviously too spontaneous to be scripted, but their direction is helped by director’s occasional questions.  

“A Millionaire’s Melancholy” is most likely going to stay linked with the festival audiences in German-speaking countries. The film is supported by The Arts and Culture Division of the Federal Chancellery of Austria.  

Director: Caspar Pfaundler

With: Walter Haid, Gerald Sternfeld, Bertold Bottler

Music: Jean-Frédéric Edelmann‘s Sonata in Es Op. 8 Nr.1