Beginning with a flatly lit, digital image of Fannie (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg) cynically trying on an expensive (but unflattering) dress in a boutique, Soldier Jane initially generates less than inspiring expectations. It seems mundane, stagey, even cheap, yet superficial impressions can be deceiving. Like Fassbinder’s early low-budget works, it gradually blossoms into a film of wry humour and bourgeoisie subversion, like they just don’t make anymore.
Fannie is an heiress, whose life of wealth and luxury has reached a brick wall. She has run up enormous bills on her property, yet refuses to pay them. Shopping fails to remedy her emptiness and the friendships she possesses are without substance or meaning. In thoroughly un-melodramatic fashion however, Fannie is not wracked with emotion. The emptiness of her existence initiates no crisis, but a cold hard resilience as she disciplines herself solely through martial arts. She is a woman on the edge, but of what?
The film takes its time to reveal Hoesl’s intentions and for the first 45 minutes, it is anyone’s guess. Telling each scene almost entirely in long, self conscious, static shots, the director (who previously worked as Assistant Director on Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy) remains steadfast with his sensationally unenticing stylistic approach. Fannie gradually leaves behind the luxury of her apartment and sets off, cross-country until she teams up with Anna (Christina Reichsthaler): a young woman living and working on a remote farm, surrounded only by men. Before this however, Fannie decided to incinerate all the money she has available to her.
These glorious moments are feminist, anti-capitalist bombshells amid the stagey mise-en-scene, which allow us to make sense of the retro style. Early in the film Fannie watches Godard’s 1962 film Vivre Sa Vie, specifically the sequence where Anna Karina’s Nana watches The Passion of Jean of Arc (1928) by Dryer. It is a film-within-a-film-within-a-film and it is also a statement of intent. Hoesl wishes to return cinema to bygone, revolutionary days where celluloid helped focus our passions. But herein lies the problem. With his bourgeoisies bashing, Godard referencing and feminist stance Hoesl’s is a cinematic revolution of the past.
And yet, this is not to say the director’s themes are not relevant. They are. This is why Soldier Jane does work, not as a revolution, but as a reminder of why cinema should still be used as a medium of dissent. While the films of Godard and Fassbinder made a profound mark on the medium in the 1960’s, the troubles that their films were concerned with still exist. Capital still runs and ruins lives, gender inequality still endures and mainstream Hollywood cinema is perhaps as capitalist, chauvinistic and, dare I say, propagandic as it has ever been. Soldier Jane is a timely provocation, questioning what ideals cinema should continue to tackle in the digital age.