Inheritors with a Will

In rural Austria in the early thirties, a tyrannical farmer dies without offspring and, to the shock of his fellow landowners, leaves his entire estate to the ten peasants who work for him. Thus begins an engaging film, The Inheritors.

Rather than take the obvious path and sell the property to the exploitative neighbors, seven of the beneficiaries, under the leadership of Emmy (Sophie Rois) and Lukas (Simon Schwarz), buy out the other three and form a collective. But at every step they are challenged by the other landowners, who regard the notion of peasants becoming owners as an abomination against nature.

Despite its setting, time frame and obviously political concerns, this excellent, engaging second feature from Austrian writer-director Stefan Ruzowitzky, is not an allegory about the rise of National Socialism. Instead, the film (in German, with English subtitles) has a fablelike sheen; indeed, set in the primitive countryside, it could be taking place just as easily in the1830s as the 1930s. While the story is essentially a tragedy, with echoes of Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, Ruzowitzky gives it a surprisingly light tone, sparked by Schwarz's magnetic performance as the naive, likable hero.

-- Andy Klein


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