Written by Gerald Igor Hauzenberger
Directed by Gerald Igor Hauzenberger
Watched on 26.10.2015
“Last Shelter” is a good, objective and well-made documentary that nevertheless, in my opinion, missed the last punch. I didn’t find it particularly thought-provoking and/or evocative. It’s further hurt by the fact that in a way, our present seems to have caught up with the events portrayed here. Back in 2012, a couple of refugees who occupy the Votiv church were a big deal, but with the recent flow of refugees coming to Europe, they seem like a minor note – something that Gerald Igor Hauzenberger tried to take into account with an epilogue that, while connecting the past crisis with current events, might have been better suited as and would have very well been worth a documentary of its own.
What “Last Shelter” shows, however, and which gave me the chills, is the total help- and cluelessness of the politicians. If they were already unable to cope with 30-40 refugees who occupied the Votiv church in order to finally force them to do something, how are they ever going to deal with recent events? Now, of course, the lethargy of Austrian politics is nothing new. And, to be fair, there were some of them – albeit very few – that tried to deal with the situation, instead of simply ignoring it. Nevertheless, it was easy to sympathize with the refugees, their struggle and their accusation that the politicians just didn’t care about their situation. Thus, it was also understandable – and heartbreaking – to see them going on a hunger strike in order to finally compel a response. “Last Shelter” also shows that the ambulance, the clergy and non-profit organisations like Caritas can only do so much, but ultimately are equally helpless if the politicians refuse to (re)act. Our connection with the refugees is further heightened by the fact that Hauzenberger only shows the proceedings from their perspective. Third parties are only a factor when they interact with the refugees, otherwise, we only see, hear and experience what they see, hear and experience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it puts the audience into their shoes, since that would just be cynical. I’m neither starving nor did I have to flee from my home country because of war or persecution. But it nevertheless helps the audience to identify with their plight and their struggle.
Where “Last Shelter” also shined was in giving us a follow-up to those headlines from the past – since after the occupation ended, those refugees pretty much dropped from the face of the earth, at least as far as the media is concerned. There also were a couple of moments that really stood out, like when one of the refugees rallied against the Austrian government, and you could hear the passing remark “Fuck foreigners” from a passerby. There also was a really cute wedding, with their love story presenting a glimmer of hope in the otherwise bleakness of the picture. My favorite moment of the documentary, however, was the extremely weird scene where a group of bridesmaids on a bachelorette party meet a protesting refugee. That was just bizarre. My biggest complaint, however, is my belief that ultimately, “Last Shelter” is preaching to the choir. It will only reach – and touch – those who are already sympathetic towards refugees, but I don’t really see it changing the minds of those who are skeptical if not outright hostile towards them. Putting more emphasis on their stories, and the reason why they fled their countries, might have helped with that. As it is, “Last Shelter” is an important contemporary document, that – thanks to recent events – unfortunately nevertheless already feels dated, even before it reached the cinema.