Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, who faced allegations of on-set impropriety and child exploitation last year, will attend the world premiere of a “new” film, titled “Wicked Games Rimini Sparta,” at the Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam later this month. Seidl has strenuously denied the allegations made against him.
A festival spokesperson told Variety that the plan was for Seidl to arrive at the festival on Jan. 29, and stay for three nights, but the details were still being finalized. IFFR runs Jan. 25-Feb. 5.
The new film, with a running time of 205 minutes, combines footage from his twinned 2022 films “Rimini” and “Sparta,” the latter of which was the focus of the allegations. In the films, Seidl follows the lives of two brothers, Richie and Ewald, respectively. The former is a crooner, long past his prime yet still beloved by hordes of late-middle-aged female fans who can buy his sexual services; the latter is a technician living in Romania and wrestling with his pedophile desires.
A description of the new film on the festival’s website, written by German critic and programmer Olaf Möller, states that when Seidl began working on the stories they “were supposed to be told in one film – and now they finally are!”
Möller adds that “Wicked Games Rimini Sparta” offers “a staggeringly different experience of the narrative(s). It’s far more cerebral, above all a work of ideas.”
In the film’s first, winter-set movement, “the two strands are tightly interwoven,” Möller says, “mirroring, complementing each other into a devastatingly bleak vision of lost childhood as a state of mind.”
The second, summer-set movement, he says, is “focused on Ewald and the Spartan fantasies he lives out with a band of boys in a fortress they build, now seen as a sublimation of his father’s obsession with German fascism that makes him spout Nazi songs and slogans when he barely remembers anything else.” Meanwhile, the father of one little Spartan tries to “turn the boy against Ewald by brutally ‘educating’ him to embrace evil.”
All of this, says the critic, makes the new film “a more disconcerting, disconsolate and heart-broken, but also in many ways richer version of the project.”
The allegations of on-set impropriety and child exploitation against Seidl and “Sparta” were published on Sept. 2 in German news magazine Der Spiegel. The investigation alleged that Seidl did not communicate the film’s theme of pedophilia to its young actors, who were between the ages of 9 and 16 and not from professional backgrounds. It’s also alleged that the actors were confronted with alcoholism, nudity and violence during the production without adequate preparation or support.
Der Spiegel said its journalists spent more than six months investigating the production of “Sparta” in Germany, Austria and Romania, and spoke to dozens of crew members, including some actors.
Seidl’s lawyer told Der Spiegel that there is no sexual context nor pornographic or pedophiliac scenes in the film. The lawyer also denied that any child was “filmed naked or in a sexualized situation, pose or context.”
In a statement addressing the allegations posted to his official website, Seidl wrote that the film is based on a true story, and follows an Austrian man in his 40s who moves to a remote part of the country to start a new life, and together with a group of young boys from the area, transforms a dilapidated school into a fortress.
Throughout the process, however, the man is forced to “confront a truth he has long repressed, one that neither the boys nor the outside world suspect. On the inside he is secretly struggling against his pedophile urges,” writes Seidl.
Commenting on the allegations, the director wrote: “My films are not the product of my manipulating my actors, misrepresenting the film to them, much less abusing them. On the contrary: Without the trust that we build over weeks and months together, the long shooting periods my films require would be impossible. I have the greatest respect for all my actors and would never take a decision that could in any way endanger their physical and psychological wellbeing.”
Following publication of the allegations, the Toronto Film Festival decided to withdraw the film from its program, and Filmfest Hamburg scrapped its plan to give the Douglas Sirk Prize to the director. The film eventually had its world premiere in competition at San Sebastian Film Festival, although the director canceled his visit to the festival.
“Wicked Games Rimini Sparta” was produced by Seidl, Philippe Bober and Michel Merkt for Coproduction Office, which is also the sales agent. It was written by Seidl and Veronika Franz.