Some of the greatest filmmakers in the history of film come from Austria. They
include directors Fritz Lang, Erich von Stroheim, Gustav Wilhelm Pabst, Josef
von Sternberg, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Fred Zinnemann and Edgar Ulmer,
screenwriter Walter Reisch, directors of photography Franz Planner and Karl
Freund, and actors/actresses Elisabeth Bergner, Magda and Romy Schneider, Hedy
Lamarr, Anton Walbrok, Curd Jürgens, Maria and Maximillian Schell, Nadja
Tiller, Senta Berger, Helmut Berger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Arnold
Schwarzenegger and Christoph Waltz. But what is their credit for the making of
Austrian cinema? Not very big. With the exception of the golden period of the
1920s, when more than a hundred films were made in Austria every year, Austrian
talents always kept their suitcases at hand. If you made your name known in
Vienna, the next logical step was Berlin and, in many cases, Hollywood. If it
wasn't for actor/director Willy Forst and actress Paula Wessely, Austrian film
in the 1930s would be but a pale blip in European film industry. As for the
1950s, we only remember the kitschy series Sissi.
In the seventies, Austrian film officially reached the bottom: the then best
know Austrian director Franz Antel was churning out comedies about a
wild-living landlady. No wonder that the new star of Austrian literature, Peter
Handke, was much closer to the leading names of German New Wave than to their
Viennese colleagues. He even directed his first feature film, The Left-Handed Woman, in Germany.
Indicatively, Austria had truly important filmmakers in those days, primarily
Peter Kubelka and Valie Export. However, they were, without exception,
conceptual artists and were only interested in experimental film. An
interesting Austrian film released into the theaters screening American, French
and Italian hits? There was no chance!
The situation gradually changed in the 1980s, when the government started investing in cinematography. At the end of that decade, Michael Haneke directed his impressive, but sickening debut, Seventh Continent. Ever since, the adjective "Austrian" can be spotted at world festivals more and more often. Austrian cinema has so far won an Oscar for Best Film in Foreign Language (The Counterfeiters by Stephan Ruzowitzki), a nomination for the same award (Revanche by Götz Spielmann), two Golden Palms in Cannes (Haneke's films, White Band and Love) and numerous recognitions at other festivals. We can single out here – because they were presented in our neighborhood – Golden Heart of Sarajevo for Breathing (directorial debut of actor Karl Markovics, the star of The Counterfeiters) and Golden Pram at last year's Zagreb Film Festival for Michael, also a debutant film of Haneke's close collaborator Markus Schleinzer.
Austrian cinema is today the talk of the world. Even a witty remark has been coined for it: In his article on the Week of the Austrian Film in New York's Lincoln Center, American film critic Dennis Lim wrote that Austria is the world capital of the phenomenon of "feel bad cinema". Indeed, if there is anything that characterizes the new Austrian film, then these are the topics that trigger anxiety. However, when exceptionally intriguing works are in question, a film experience can be stimulating indeed.
For My First Film program we have selected the first works of the filmmakers who achieved acclaim in the past two and a half decades and who are today the most intriguing Austrian directors. Among them is the inevitable Haneke with the already mentioned Seventh Continent (1989); provocative Ulrich Seidl and his Models (Croatian premiere; 1999), a pseudodocumentary in which his author has used fragments of fiction film for the first time; Barbara Albert, who worked with Andrea Štaka and Jasmila Žbanić on their awarded debuts, will present its first feature film, Northern Skirts (1999); Jessica Hausner, proclaimed to be the new great hope of European cinema owing to her excellent Lourdes, had her debut with the acclaimed Lovely Rita (2001). Götz Spielman's debutant film is the oldest among these, dating way back to 1990. It is called Erwin and Yulia.
In short, these are the films worth seeing, despite of the bitter taste that will stay in your mouth after the lights in the auditorium are turned on.
Nenad Polimac, Program Selector of My First Film: Austria
Program My First Film: Austria is organized in collaboration with Austrian Cultural Forum.Film program is subject to change without notice.