The Good Years

Die guten Jahre / The Good Years

Documentary film, AT 2024, 94 min

Available versions:
German original version
German original version with English subtitles


A huge thank you to everyone who believed in this film until its completion and contributed to its realisation with your help! I am very grateful and eternally indebted to you! 




In his early fifties, successful magazine photographer Michael Appelt moves back into his old childhood home to care for his mother, who is beginning to suffer from dementia.
Appelt, himself traumatised after a long stay in hospital and suffering from severe depression, lovingly cares for his mother and dreams of earlier adventures when his world, dominated by photography, was still in order.
Reiner Riedler's documentary film is a personal portrait of a friend and companion that not only tells of the essential themes of being human, growing old and confronting the hopeless, but also makes Michael Appelt's impressive photographic oeuvre accessible.
First and foremost, however, "The Good Years" is a filmic testimony to the unconditional love that forms the basis for mother and son to live together in times of change.



Director: Reiner Riedler
Script: Katja Schröckenstein, Reiner Riedler
Editing and dramaturgy: Gerhard Daurer
Co-editing: Martin Biribauer
Dramaturgical advice - editing: Eva Hausberger
Dramaturgical advice - concept: Katja Schröckenstein
Sound: Eva Hausberger, Andreas Pils, Maximilian Rosenberger
Artistic advice: Frank Robert
Sound design and mixing: Andreas Pils
DIT / First Camera Assistant / Drone: Maximilian Rosenberger
Color grading and compositing: Bernhard Hochenauer
Music: Imre LB
Additional music: Martin Hemmer
Production consulting: Catrin Freundlinger, Veronika Hraby
Title design: Michael Fürnsinn / buero8
Protagonists: Michael Appelt, Christine Appelt, Astrid Biribauer, Frank Robert, Katharina Schrems, Hannes Kment
Production: Reiner Riedler Film Production

Produced with the support of:

BMKÖS, ORF as part of the film/television agreement, MA7, Province of Lower Austria



Reiner Riedler was born in Gmunden (Austria) in 1968. After graduating from high school in Bad Ischl, he studied ethnology, journalism, political science, African studies and musicology for a few semesters before deciding to attend the College of Photography at the Graphische in Vienna and devote himself entirely to photography. He later went on to study visual studies at the Danube University Krems.

Reiner Riedler is actually a photographer. As a documentary photographer, he deals with important contemporary issues. His focus is always on people and their environment. The main focus of his documentary work is to scrutinise our value systems. As a traveller, he visits the periphery of our living spaces, always in search of the fragile beauty of human existence with its longings and abysses. His more recent conceptual works question the nature of photography and the way we view the world around us. In doing so, he attempts to explore the limits of the medium.

Reiner Riedler's work has been exhibited at photo festivals, galleries and museums in numerous countries. He has worked for many years for international journals and magazines. His most important works - such as Fake Holidays, Will, Sweat, Memory Diamonds - have been published as photo books.

Reiner Riedler is a member of the Künstlerhaus Vereinigung in Vienna. He is the founder of the independent photobook label Reflektor. He is also a co-founder of Artscope Vienna, a platform that deals with the virtual reality visualisation of art spaces. Film has always been part of his photographic work. The most important stage was a collaboration with Ulrich Seidl as a photographer for his Paradise - trilogy. In 2021, Reiner Riedler finally decided to work on his first documentary film The Good Years.



It was mostly late-night calls full of despair and disorientation that got me out of bed. He was standing alone in a snow-covered car park and no one was there to pick him up. His bank account had been emptied, his watches stolen. At these moments, I was caught up in my father's other world - a world into which he slipped more and more often and didn't find his way back for a long time, until he finally stayed over there and the calls stopped.

One of our primal fears is that of our own transience. It's even worse when you lose yourself in the process. The slow disappearance of my father has left a deep impression on me, like a heavy shadow this time accompanies me. Looking back, I know that it was his story that prompted me to make this film. When he was bedridden, my mother looked after him devotedly for years until she could no longer do so and he was finally admitted to a care home. I only saw him sporadically and unfortunately too rarely.

When a similar development became apparent with Christl, my friend Michael's mother, and he, unlike me, took on the task of caring for him, I wanted to accompany the two of them with my camera and tell his, my and our story. It's a small story - and at the same time a big one, as it affects us all.

"I'm sure we'll become a well-rehearsed team," says Michael on the terrace. He is moving back to his parental home, which feels close and yet so foreign. He suffers from a lung disease and anxiety - and is traumatised by a long stay in hospital. He has suffered from depression for many years. Despite this, he wants to look after his mother, who needs more and more help in her everyday life. Not a good starting point for such a big task, you might think. His old nursery, which he moves back into, is full of memories. The early loss of his father weighs heavily and raises questions that are reflected in his photographic work. For Michael, there is no question that his new task is to look after his mother.

In caring for her, he finds support and security, uncompromisingly committing himself to the task while dreaming of the golden age of his photography career. He rejects the concept of care, for him it is the unconditional love for his mother that drives him. Instead, the search and the needs of the two develop into a relationship that becomes a life partnership and harbours a new, strong power. "I need my mum more than she needs me," Michael once says. He fully embraces this special form of cohabitation and his mother becomes his most important point of reference. The mother-son relationship and Michael's way of dealing with it become the central narrative thread of the film. 

Super 8 films emerge that are full of nostalgia and yet in these old family films you can sense a premonition of how things will be in the future. Looking back into the past makes you feel uneasy, because somehow you are also looking into the future. A big question, perhaps another primal fear, looms large: what will happen when our strength fails us and we can no longer look after our loved ones? While the mother's mild dementia remains stable, the son's health begins to deteriorate. What will happen next, how will his and their story develop?

Michael and I have been friends for over thirty years, he has always been clear and convinced and often uncompromising in his actions. The son who is there for his mother - a rather atypical constellation, as women are traditionally pushed into this role in our society. "It's a bizarre situation you both live in," says a friend. "My mum is the most important person in my life at the moment," replies Michael. Christl needs Michael to cope with everyday life, be it when he takes her to the doctor, serves her food, organises her tablets or helps her shower. But Michael also needs his mum. He finds security with her: "She is the only person who has always accepted me for who I am." The house, his little nursery, becomes his refuge. His mother gives him a reason to get up in the morning. Fortunately, her illness does not worsen.

"For me, it's a love film," Michael says at one point during production. We all know those moments of despair when nothing works and we have our backs to the wall. And then there's this glass key that we just have to grab, which gives us a chance and opens a new door. Perhaps the two of them have found the key?

In the end, it is love that carries everything and holds us together in difficult times.




Analogous to the erosion of traditional forms of photography in the age of digitalisation, the focus of the photographer Michael changes from the well-travelled adventurer to essential questions of being. How does he manage to transform himself from a man of life to a caring son, whose centre of life increasingly becomes his parents' house and his former nursery? Has it fallen out of time for a son to focus entirely on one task?

Michael Appelt's world is reflected in his photographic works, which are stored in the cellar. They accompany us as a separate narrative thread, showing the invisible that dominates his life and becomes tangible in them. They show a deep confrontation with himself; he opens himself up completely to the viewer. One picture shows him naked in his parents' kitchen in handcuffs with a plastic bag over his head. The saving key on the floor, a single cry for help, there is still a chance - take it to survive!

The cellar staircase as a birth canal brings the pictures to light - something breaks open and lets us participate. Michael has had an exhibition again for a long time. Curator Frank Robert describes it aptly in his laudatory speech: "Abysses open up, despair finds its place. But by making these feelings visible, they can also be conquered and in these moments we find the core of Michael Appelt's work, in which love becomes visible and can win, especially in times of uncertainty and hardship."

In three photographic works - We Are Hell - Michael Appelt analyses relationships. An examination of the relationship with himself (dying) and the relationship with the people he loves (living). The third part is about the observation of another (Existence).

Michael Appelt on his work: "Relationships are ambivalent. On the one hand, they mean closeness, trust, security, happiness and home. On the other hand, they are characterised by the latent fear that everything will turn into the opposite. The origin of despair, downfall, collapse and loss."

The locations of his photographs, which are a central element of his narrative, can be found in the immediate surroundings of his childhood: in his parents' house, in the garden "Blood Brothers", in the kitchen "Suicide Scene", on the street in front of the house "Cowboys and Indians", in the living room "Mickey Mouse", in his parents' bedroom "Michael with his mother in a wedding dress". For a long time, Michael has been coming to terms psychologically with his childhood and youth, with the death of his father. In the film, we visit him at the locations of his pictures and find a strange analogy: just like him in his photographs, we also try to find answers.




Michael Appelt supports his mother with everyday tasks. His work is known as informal care:

Informal care means that people in need of care are supported by people close to them, such as family members, friends or neighbours, without professional training or payment. This support can include various tasks, such as basic care (assistance with personal hygiene, dressing and undressing, eating and drinking), mobility (assistance with walking, wheelchair transfers or assistance with climbing stairs), housekeeping (shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry), companionship (assistance with visits to the doctor, visits to the authorities and leisure activities) or emotional support (listening, talking and comforting).

Informal care is an important part of the care system and significantly reduces the burden on professional care. Around 80 per cent of people in need of care in Austria are cared for at home by their relatives.

Formal care: In contrast to informal care, professional care is provided by trained carers in outpatient care services or inpatient care facilities. The costs of formal care are partly covered by care insurance.

In Austria, 800,000 people provide informal care. This means that one in ten people cares for a family member around the clock! And the demand will increase: In the EU, the number of people in need of care is expected to rise from 30.8 million in 2019 to 38.1 million in 2050.

The film is intended to be a catalyst, raise awareness of an increasingly important topic, help break down taboos and offer opportunities for more exchange and openness in connection with this topic.