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Rimini review – Ulrich Seidl’s wintry seaside tragedy is an acquired taste

There are undeniable flashes of brilliance in this study of a washed-up lounge singer, but it's also a demandingly grotesque slow-burn

From the moment you first see washed-up lounge singer Richie Bravo’s (Michael Thomas) facial hair in Ulrich Seidl’s Rimini, you know exactly who you’re dealing with. A horrible mix of vain and ugly, it’s a beard that’s a window into the soul of a man who is coming to terms with the deeply depressing turns his life has taken but still needs validation, even when it comes from grim and grisly sources.

Richie performs for small, elderly crowds in the eponymous Italian seaside town, crowds mostly made up of tourists from Germany and Richie’s own native Austria who come to listen to his brilliantly awful songs, all expressly composed for the film itself. It’s the off-season, which means Rimini is mostly empty, and Seidl makes good use of this rather miserable location. Freezing mists hide the seafront while migrants huddle in the barren public spaces, Richie stumbling past these sights in an often drunken haze, wrapped up in a magnificently sleazy sealskin coat.

Seidl’s exterior compositions are meticulously worked out, always striking, sometimes even starkly beautiful, but things get much bleaker whenever we go inside. To supplement his meagre income, Richie has paid sex with his elderly female fans, Seidl shooting these gruesome sequences bluntly and without embarrassment. It makes for a tough watch, made even worse when Richie starts to film the encounters for potential blackmail material after his long-estranged daughter Tessa reappears and demands €30,000 to make up for lost child support.

Everything about Rimini’s plot is simultaneously low-stakes and nightmarish, from Tessa moving herself and all her boyfriend’s friends into Richie’s spacious but sad house to Richie and his brother having to organise their mum’s funeral around their demented dad, who sings Hitler Youth songs in moments of confusion. Rimini is an acquired taste, one demands a lot from viewers, and maybe doesn’t quite offer enough in return (this is a slow burn, and an often stomach-turning one at that), but there are enough flashes of genuine brilliance here to keep you engrossed.

Rimini is released in UK cinemas on 9 December.

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