They're not sure exactly what they're dreaming about. All they know is that it' big, far away and definitely wild. They suspect that the white contrails in the sky lead to the destination of their dreams. Texas. California. Memphis, Tennessee. America must be great. That much they are sure of.


Betty and Lilly, both in their early 20s, are the protagonists in Ternitz Tennessee, Mirjam Unger's first effort as a director. They spend their days in gushy discussions of their dreams. And for a good reason: They live in Ternitz, a dreary provincial village south of Vienna- Betty grooms pampered white poodles at a dog salon, and Lilly, a car mechanic, is constantly forced to stand up to her male co-workers at the garage. That is, when she isn't turning heads in her fire-engine red Mustang. But they want more out of life. Lilly wants larger breasts, and Betty hopes and prays for a rendezvous with her idol El Bresli, who comes to Ternitz on a promotional tour. When they set their sights on something, they do all they can to get it and never give up. As a team and as close friends, as long as things work out that way. But when a best friend becomes an obstacle, neither hesitates to let her loyalty take a back seat to the lifelong dream of the moment.

"Their friendship does play a role," claims the director, "but the most important thing is the dreams they're pursuing. Both had a concrete idea which they examined thoroughly to find the reality, and the myth, behind it." Betty does everything she can to get closer to El Bresli, an Elvis impersonator who sings the praises of kitchen appliances. While they are chasing after Betty's idol, Lilly falls for a black stage mechanic and former rodeo performer from Memphis, Tennessee. "It's now or never," belts out El Bresli, "which turns the knees of his female fans to jelly. The two strong-willed women of the hinterland long ago realized the value of this song's simple truth as a philosophy of life, and that a certain amount of coquetry is necessary when dealing with the world of stars and dreams. Everybody grabs what she can get. Ternitz Tennessee, rather than a swan song of female friendship, is an entertaining fantasy in pink. The kitsch and pomp of the television world are equally at home as unadulterated romanticism, characters from the big city and elements of an in-your-face road movie. It offers a stylized foray through the decades in which the Elvis myth is brought into the year 2000 as a PR gag, in which Lilly's Mustang gives new life to the brand-name fetishism of the 70s, and in which 80s youth culture show no signs of wear in the small-town world, although basketball players and skate punks do add a whiff of globalization. "At the most," explains Mirjam Unger, "I had Cry Baby in mind, though strictly speaking, this is kind of a crazy story set in a cosmos which does not really exist."

In contrast to most of other young filmmakers who have made names for themselves lately, Unger did not write the screenplay for her first feature film- at the 1998 Diagonale, author Manfred Rebhandl asked her to film his story. Her debut is made outstanding thanks primarily to its original visual power and a unique style which goes back and forth between genres, never allowing itself to be pinned down. "At first," said Unger, "I felt trapped by the linear story because I was dealing with such strong personalities who tend to push things along. That's why I dispensed with a number of formal elements, because I was afraid of losing the story. I cannot say that I've really found myself. In any event, an interesting question always poses itself with someone else's story: How can I translate what is there into images?" Unger had her first directing experience with two short films, Speak Easy and Mehr oder weniger, and the 30-year-old, who studied at Vienna's Academy of Film, began her career in broadcast media. She began working as a radio announcer in 1987 and still hosts a show at FM4, a radio station. In 1991, she wrote and conducted interviews for X-Large, an ORF TV magazine for the youth market. This taught her about working on the other side of the camera. "In those five years," she claimed, "I learned a great deal about the world of television behind the scenes and realized that I want out. Suddenly, I felt a great urge to go to the movies all the time, and I began to develop a strong sense of the difference between the two media."

The director skillfully merges the common features of these two spheres in Ternitz Tennessee. The virtual world of television bluntly forces itself into the lives of the protagonists, only to withdraw from reality without a trace. She allows both women's fantasies to become reality, only to have them discover that this is a game with winners and losers. "My aim was not at all to make fun of television," explained Unger, "I think El is great, I love variety shows with all their kitsch and understand why Betty idolizes him." For Sonja Romei, the role of the determined Bresli fan was the perfect opportunity to display her great acting talent. Since appearing in Unger's first shorts, she has developed as an actress along with the director's work, and Ternitz Tennessee offered her an opportunity to pull out all the stops. "I just love to work with Sonja," claimed Unger enthusiastically, "she is as raw as an uncut diamond, full of life and always a source of surprises." With her sidekick played by Nina Proll, who recently received the Mastroianni Prize in Venice, the two women are an ideally matched duo despite their seemingly opposite personalities, developing a dynamism which adds a great deal of energy to the film. Thanks to the excellent camerawork of Jürgen Jürges and the ironic and amusing soundtrack by Christof Kurzmann and Fritz Ostermayer-though new to the world of film music, they have already made names for themselves in Vienna as pioneers of electronic and avant-garde music-Ternitz Tennessee is a convincing and harmonic whole, a manifesto on the snowball effect among young Austrian filmmakers.


Karin Schiefer