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The Inheritors (1998)

 “A poor wretch has a hard life everywhere.”

The Inheritors is set in Austria before WWII. Hillinger, an unpleasant old farmer is found murdered. At the reading of the will, held in a local tavern, the village gathers to hear the division of the spoils. Everyone is shocked to learn that the farmer has left his property to the ten peasants who work the land. The peasants are a hodgepodge crew managed by a foreman (Tilo Pruckner). Local landowner, Danninger (Ulrich Wildgruber) approaches the foreman and offers to buy the land. Seven of the peasants–headed by Lukas (Simon Schwarz)–refuse to sell and decide to stay and farm the land themselves.

inheritorsWhile the film is essentially dark and bleak, there are light moments (the insults written in the will, for example) that alleviate the sense of hopelessness and encroaching doom. There are also moments of absurdity (the elephant) that may or may not appeal to the viewer. The story also involves a predictable subplot. Clearly the film is an allegory–with the innocent and the powerless attempting to fight political institutions. Ultimately, the film is rather painful to watch, and the suffering spread across the screen diminishes the film’s Marxist message. A film with a political message must leave the viewer with something other than depression at its conclusion. From director Stefan Ruzowitzky, in German with English subtitles.

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