Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Distributed by: Mubi
Written by Michael Clawson
Richie Bravo – that is a fine name for a pop singer. But all is not fine for Richie, the portly, past-his-prime Austrian vocalist at the center of Ulrich Seidl’s icy, wince-inducing character study. Set in the Italian seaside resort town from which the film gets its name, “Rimini” picks up with Richie in the dead of winter, when thick ocean fog and frigid wind drives tourists off of the beach and into their hotels. That’s where scant numbers of elderly tourists gather for serenades by Richie, who makes so little from his performances that on the side, he’s sleeping with older women for cash and renting out his gaudy villa to fans, forcing him to squat in a hotel that’s closed for Rimini’s off-season.
Though he’d surely prefer to be financially better off, Richie isn’t ashamed or outwardly bothered by his tawdry lifestyle. He seems to still take great pleasure in his crooning, which he does wholeheartedly despite his dwindling audience and meager paycheck. Richie’s life would probably go on unchanged were it not for the unexpected arrival of his grown daughter Tessa (Tessa Göttlicher), whose life Richie has been entirely absent from. Rather than a relationship, Tessa wants money: she sternly demands $30,000 as compensation for the support that her father never provided. With Tessa’s arrival, “Rimini” becomes a biting drama on fading stardom, bitter familial connection, and how some people never change.
As played by a gruff and totally convincing Michael Thompson, Richie can be both charismatic and repulsive. With his dyed blonde long hair, thick goatee, and flashy outfits, Richie’s presence on stage can be oddly charming, no matter how pitiable his venue or tacky his style. But elsewhere, he’s cruelly manipulative, never more so than in his horrible last-ditch scheme to find Tessa’s money. Whether filming Richie’s performances or his sexual encounters, the steeliness of Seidl’s camera spares us no discomfort or awkwardness, ensuring that “Rimini” never veers towards sentimentality. As a portrait of an artist and father, this film is a chilly and bleak affair.