Hot Docs 2013: Felix Austria!
Let’s face it – documentaries are not always the most positive and uplifting movies. Take it on faith from someone who has recently watch a billion (okay I’m exaggerating, but still…) docs in a row, it can be emotionally exhausting. So Felix Austria!, undoubtedly a whimsical and quirky doc on its own merits, was a breath of fresh and buoyant air in the Hot Docs 2013 lineup. Director Christine Bebe has created a peculiar and delightful character study that is just not to be missed.
Felix Austria! brings us the story of Felix Etienne-Edouard Pfeifle, an aficionado of Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the previous sentence implies, Felix is a colorful guy. He’s also a forthright, engaging subject for a documentary. Felix loves the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and like any niche-subject geek, the only things he loves more than the empire is sharing his love for with others. Turns out the story of how he hatched this passion is just as compelling as the passion itself. Felix’s interest was informed by the inheritance of a correspondence between everyman American Herbet Hinkel and the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Otto con Hapsburg. This correspondence—roughly 60 years of it!—offers a pretty intimate peek into the life of a monarch. Felix is not arm-chair historian however and Felix Austria! tranfroms into a sort of travelouge as Felix globe-trots in search of more information about Hinkel and Hapsburg.
Part of what makes Felix Austria! so compelling is a purely visual conceit that’s difficult to describe in a written review. As Felix digs deeper into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire digs deeper in to Felix, manifesting itself as a series of odd dreams. Bebe handles this fact exceptionally well, with illustrated, surreal, and often very funny dream sequences. These sequences not only breath life into the doc, they offer a sort of channel for Felix to express something he definitely does NOT want to talk about – his father’s slow death from Huntington’s disease and Felix’s own fifty-fifty chance of drawing that card in the genetic lottery.