And the award for the longest film title on the site goes to (drumroll, please): Bernhard Wenger’s ENTSCHULDIGUNG, ICH SUCHE DEN TISCHTENNISRAUM UND MEINE FREUNDIN (EXCUSE ME, I’M LOOKING FOR THE PING-PONG ROOM AND MY GIRLFRIEND). One can take a few things away from the title alone: For one, it’s a long short. Of course, longer shorts can have short titles and vice versa, but if you decide to use an entire line for the name of your film, you better make it count. It’s also a reflection of the characteristic humor inherent in the unfolding story.
At the same time, the film’s title is also the description of its plot: While on a couples vacation, Aron gets into a fight with his girlfriend Ida and spends the remaining stay in the scenic spa hotel reluctantly searching for her. In the course of his lethargic quest, Aron befriends other guests at the hotel and circles back to the second part of the title, his search for the ping-pong room.
Things get really interesting when Aron meets another girl at the hotel and takes her up to his room. Of course, this would be the most inconvenient time for Aron’s girlfriend to come back and catch them in the act. That is, if she actually does show up.
Just like in the sprawling narrative, Austrian writer/director Wenger’s stylistic choices combine the peculiarities of his home country with the laconic Scandinavian charm, in the filmmaking tradition of Aki Kaurismäki. Wenger says that the inspiration for EXCUSE ME resulted out of his own disbelief of how “some people went stoically through the world in a dream-like state, letting things happen without influencing them.” The film never pushes the concept too far though, instead opting for a more idiosyncratic tone that feels naturalistic and subliminally artificial at the same time.
“As Arons girlfriend disappears, he waits and just half-heartedly starts to search for her. Because of this act of inaction, I realized that this film had to be a bizarre dramedy,” Wenger explains. The odd nature of the alpine wellness resort itself contributes to the slightly absurd, meandering atmosphere that pervades the short. “I also always thought wellness is amazing on the one hand, but also really bizarre on the other. So in addition to my main character’s passivity I decided to push him into a completely inactive world.” The admittedly slow pace of the film is a crucial part of EXCUSE ME’s success, as it illustrates Aron’s passivity perfectly.
Another apparent influence for the film were the kind of relationships that have grown stale, without either partner acknowledging the fact that it would be better to call it quits. As Wenger puts it, “often it takes a long time to admit that a relationship is no longer working. It requires experience and courage to not maintain relationships out of habit or comfort.“ For anyone who has ever had relationships that went past their expiration date (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t?), films like EXCUSE ME can even feel a bit uncomfortable, as they tend to strike a nerve and hold a mirror to one’s own disaffection or inability to take the necessary actions.
After a successful festival run, EXCUSE ME, I’M LOOKING FOR THE PING-PONG ROOM AND MY GIRLFRIEND won the Best Short Film at the Austrian Film Awards 2019. Bernhard Wenger is currently working on his first feature length film PEACOCK and was accepted into the Cinéfondation Residence at the Cannes Film Festival 2020, where he will be finalizing the script.