Berlinale 2022 review: A Little Love Package (Gastón Solnicki)

“In playful exploration of defined spaces imprinted with objects of beauty across Vienna, the film delights in reminiscing lost pleasures back into fanciful but bewildering life.”

The architecture of a place may be understood as a scalable arrangement of materials moulded into purpose. Sometimes organic, sometimes deliberate, the space of a city becomes an assortment of its features, and in the old capitals of Europe, the built topography carries with it the continuum of time, peace and turmoil. In A Little Love Package, Gastón Solnicki explores Vienna, not as a grand dowager of Continental civilization, but as an abstraction of ordinary objects and rituals. Later, with a quick side sojourn to Málaga, this is countered pointedly. In the handheld age of blue light and apps, these journeys are often no more than stammered directions from point A to point B. The ordinary Viennese adventures of this offbeat and improvised film, however, challenge our interactions as we navigate well-known but changed landscapes that can comfort even when they confound us.

An outline of A Little Love Package, set specifically in the afterglow of Vienna’s smoking ban for cafés, implies regulatory actions with unintended cultural impact. In dream-like visual cadences of dawn in the city, Solnicki observes the future undermined even as the past is polished. Or is it dusk? Objects across the city exist in a series of fragmented voids here, and frequently in solitude, from a single egg perched in a server to an older model Ferrari framed on a lonely avenue, held hostage amidst the collapse of tradition. So when Angeliki (Angeliki Papoulia) enlists guidance from interior designer Carmen (Carmen Chaplin) in shopping for a flat to buy, a haze drifts over their meetings, from one unacceptable apartment to the next. It’s as if the beauty of the gilded old Vienna, in its plastered walls and patterned tiles, evaporates when nostalgia is the only thing remaining to give something meaning. Memory is the gift left behind like a nicotine outline marking the spot where a picture once hung in a bar.

Credit Solnicki with exacting guidance over a work that could read heavy in conception but lifts lightly to the screen. The passing of the kaffehaus era, rendered through vignettes of urban still life and seemingly non-sequitur sequences like a teenager with a drone, is flecked with humour. These comedic observations can be perplexing, though, when they undercut the bare-boned narrative with a grab bag of ideas. On occasion, a disembodied male voice delivers a stilted, sometimes absurd, monologue over the compositions, the city and its characters ignoring the delivery. The effect is striking as a twinkling nod to muffled loudspeakers commanding attention in a bygone world, but it is also contrived. Still, the visual poetry created by this type of surrogate character is so lovingly off-kilter it’s impossible to deny outright. In the end, when the human faces that pepper A Little Love Package gather around Angeliki’s table, the playful observance of Last Supper shines as a strange homage to transformed gathering places. From smoking ordinance to pandemic, the value of these communal environments is mourned with a sincere and peculiar wink.

When Carmen’s frustrations over the never-ending flat hunt turn into sharp-tongued judgment of Angeliki’s inability to part with money, the criticisms are countered with the interior designer’s trip to Málaga. Carmen is unable to accept the constructs of family in her Mediterranean hometown with the same hard-headedness that haunts Angeliki’s apartment search. The built worlds that shape the women, whether structures of brick and stone or centuries-old societal constructs, become defined spaces imprinted with objects of beauty. These pieces could take the form of an elderly parent, or, in Solnicki’s world, a hard-boiled egg. Each can astonish in its own way. Each can foster rituals that shape interactions within a place, scalable from café table to salty shores to metropolitan Vienna. By reminding us of their purpose, A Little Love Package delights in reminiscing those lost pleasures back into fanciful but bewildering life.