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Kino with Umlauts – In Celebration of Austrian Film

By Cinekat | Guides | October 26, 2011 |

By Cinekat | Guides | October 26, 2011 |

October 26th is Austria’s Independence Day, commemorating the signing of the constitution which declared us permanently neutral and thus ending the 10-year Allied occupation. (We actually entered into an expressly forbidden economic and military pact with Germany when we joined the European Union, but luckily none of the Allied countries expressed any interest in returning for anything other than a skiing holiday.)

When you think of Austrian cinema, you probably picture a bedirndled Julie Andrews twirling in Alpine meadows, ja?

Orson Welles skulking through the ruins of Vienna, nein?

Ethan Hawke forlornly pursuing romance in “Before Sunrise”, ach.

Or our most (in)famous representative, Arnie, oh weh.

And Bollywood fans will recognize our scenic landscapes in the background of pretty much any dance montage. (Seriously, the Tyrol is periodically taken over by Indian productions and the locals are both baffled and intrigued by the lederhosen-sari routines. “Multi-kulti!”, they exclaim before returning to their beers and meerschaum pipes.)

But Austrians have won 34 Oscars and received 119 nominations since 1929 — as well as contributing to film history in other, less commercial but more Pajibian ways. Austria can claim actors such as Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out of Africa, The Russia House), Maximilian Schell (Judgement in Nuremberg, The Young Lions, A Bridge Too Far), and Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds and more recent films I’m actively repressing). Max Steiner composed the scores for Gone with the Wind, Now Voyager, Key Largo, The Informer, and A Summer Place. Vicki Baum wrote the script for Grand Hotel. Sam Spiegel produced Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, On the Waterfront, The African Queen and other classics. Hedy Lamarr surely needs no introduction, unless she’s going by her given name Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. Not to mention our directors - the controversial Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, The White Ribbon), Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity, The Day of the Jackal, A Man for All Seasons) and of course Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, The Lost Weekend).*

And so, in honour of this day (and because our fireworks suck) I give you some of my favourite local exports. But Achtung: After watching an Austrian film, one usually feels the urge to drink copious amounts of schnapps before leaping from a bridge. I have therefore issued each recommendation a Danube-Dive-Quotient or DDQ so that you may imbibe the necessary alcohol and research local bridges in advance. The lower the DDQ the less traumatized the movie-goer upon exiting the theatre. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Darwin's Nightmare.jpgDARWIN’S NIGHTMARE, Dir. Hubert Sauper, 2004
DDQ: 1

A documentary on the Nile perch, which is exported as a delicacy to the First World but has destroyed the ecosystem of Tanzania’s Lake Victoria, leading to starvation in the region. A staggering condemnation of globalised market forces and a must-see for every documentary fan. (Plus, I met Sauper at the Viennale film festival years ago and he was a gracious guest, great storyteller and quite the hottie…)

Die Siebtelbauern.jpgDIE SIEBTELBAUERN, Dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky, 1998
DDQ: 2

At the turn of the last century, a tyrannical farmer is found murdered. His long-suffering labourers are overjoyed when they discover the childless landowner has collectively left them the farm, but dark conflicts soon arise. I much preferred this early film to his Oscar-winning “The Counterfeiters.”

Der Bockerer.jpgDER BOCKERER, Dir. Franz Antel, 1981
DDQ: 3

The rise of National Socialism and World War II as seen through the eyes of a crochety Viennese butcher (Bockerer.. The high DDQ stems from the fact that this satire is actually a veritable window into the hearts of the Viennese even today.

Workingman's Death.jpgWORKINGMAN’S DEATH, Dir. Michael Glawogger, 2005
DDQ: 4

A documentary depicting international work conditions in jobs requiring hard physical labour, such as illegal miners in the Ukraine and sulphur gatherers in Indonesia. The beauty of the cinematography is starkly opposed the harsh realities faced by the subjects portrayed.

Revanche.jpgREVANCHE, Dir. Götz Spielmann, 2009
DDQ: 5

A Viennese thug and his prostitute girlfriend rob a bank with the aim of making a fresh start. But a cop fires at the getaway car, killing the girl and sinking her lover into despair. He flees to the countryside and plots his revenge on the cop and his family. Bleakly beautiful, melancholy and slow (somewhat like the Viennese sitting over their strudel mit schlag).

Hundstage.jpgHUNDSTAGE, Ulrich Seidl, 2001
DDQ: 100 000

A harsh portrayal of the modern-day life of six Viennese suburbanites on the hottest days of the year, whose lifestyles blend into derangement, depravity and despair. This film will leave a bitter aftertaste of self-loathing and blind rage. Swan-dive away, my little Vienna sausages.

For short film enthusiasts I highly recommend Sodom und Gomorrha (1922),
Stadt ohne Juden (1924) and Rosenkavalier (1926).

Prost Pajiba, servus & bussi from Wien.

* I have included people born during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in territories which are not within our current borders, as well as Austrians who fortunately managed to escape after the Anschluss of 1938. I assure you that this is not due to rampant nationalism on my part but because these individuals viewed themselves as Austrian within the cultural framework of the time. Let the judging begin.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.