Unsentimental yet deeply humane, Free Radicals "brims with energy, carefully drawn characters and fine acting" (The New York Post). In this "bruising, moving Altmanesque drama" (Time Out New York), writer/director Barbara Albert passionately explores the intersection of chance and fate as the seemingly unrelated residents of a suburban Austrian community become linked by a chain of circumstances. Albert, in her second film, subtly tempers cruel fate with "bright flashes of compassion" (The Daily News) to create an "intelligent, viscerally intellectual exercise" (The Village Voice), "grounded in the gorgeous strangeness of real life" (Film Comment). Austrian housewife Manu's narrow escape from the catastrophic consequences of "The Butterfly Effect" aboard an airliner only sets her up for an even more shockingly random fate. As the devastating results of a traffic accident transform Manu's family and the young occupants of the other car, the personal and circumstantial fallout envelopes an entire community. Raw sexuality, burgeoning romance, suburban sprawl and unsolved child abduction form a four-season dramatic fresco that exposes the lonely yearning and thwarted redemption ricocheting the human particles of Free Radicals off of each other. Boasting a first-rate cast featuring "scene stealer" (The New York Post) Deborah Ten Brink as Manu's young daughter and Michael Haneke regular Georg Friedrich (The Piano Teacher, Dog Days) as her husband, Free Radicals walks a stylistic and thematic tightrope suspended between open-hearted spirituality and unblinking realism. Barbara Albert's keen eye for physical detail and sympathetic ear for the muted cries of modern isolation incisively enlivens Free Radicals with "terrific visual and dramatic ideas." (The Village Voice)
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Incredibly, the director, an attractive young woman, did not see the young Austrian girl as the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil and setting off unintended consequences elsewhere. This despite a shot of a Brazilian butterfly! Oh well. Great artists are not required to see all interpretations of their work--but this was so obvious!
Anyway, a refreshing antidote to the usual "it's inevitable" school of film making.
"Free Radicals" is a stark, slow-moving meditation on the randomness of life. Matching style to theme, this Austrian film relates a half dozen or so barely connected stories, all of which deal with the part fate and luck play in determining the direction of our lives. In some cases, the characters are the victims of accidents or illness, while in others they becomes prisoners of their own needs and desires. In all the cases, however, the characters live a drab, loveless existence, filled with unfulfilled dreams and loneliness.
Although the film begins with an interesting premise, the overall effect is so off-putting and depressing that we really can't enjoy the movie on anything but the most purely intellectual level. The people here just seem so miserable and unhappy that we want to get away from them as quickly as possible and head back to our own lives, imperfect though they might be. Perhaps by including so many characters, the film dilutes its focus, making it hard for us to fully identify with any one person and make us care about his or her fate. Despite good acting, this crazy quilt approach turns the movie into more of a clinical exercise than a deeper involving human drama, and lends it an air of greater pretentiousness than it might otherwise have had.
Enter the world of "Free Radicals" if you must, but you might want to take some Prozac along with you to help get you through it.