Viennale: An Embarrassment of Riches

With a budget of roughly two million euros, the annual festival is in an enviable position

Christoph Schlingensief, the German film, theater and opera director | Photo: Viennale Press Department

A man in a dark suit, dark shoes and with a conventional haircut: Jean-Louis, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, sits nervously on the edge of an armchair. A meter away lies a beautiful, dark haired lady in a white top in bed: Maud, played by Françoise Fabian. Only a small table and lamp separate the two. Jean-Louis has the problem that he is snowed in and can’t get home. He gets up to take his leave but is asked by Maud to stay. He insists that he has to go, which evokes an annoyed dismissal. He shakes her hand, steps back and admits his confusion before sitting back down again, saying that he’ll only stay a short while. She smiles in a somewhat world-weary fashion.

For some, like Arthur Penn, such a scene is as exciting as “watching paint dry,” for others it is full of sexual tension and drama.  If Eric Rohmer had a gift it was his ability to see drama in the moral complexity of everyday situations and it was this ability that gives his films an enduring fascination and profundity.

Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud’s ), made in 1969, is one of Eric Rohmer’s best films and will be shown in a retrospective of his work within the Viennale between Oct. 7 and Nov. 4 (in the Austrian Film Museum).  If Eric Rohmer was one of the greatest directors of the last century William Lubtchansky, who the Viennale will also pay a tribute to between Oct. 21 and Nov. 4, was one of its greatest cameramen, and many of the films he photographed, especially the extraordinary Nouvelle Vague of Jean-Luc Godard and the stunning La Belle Noiseuse by Jacques Rivette are worth seeing if only for the photography alone.

In addition to these two major figures of cinematic history the Viennale – true to its original intention – offers a chance to feel the pulse of contemporary film, with over 130 feature films from around the world being shown between Oct. 21 and Nov. 4.

It will be possible to see the latest films from Jean-Luc Godard, Mike Leigh, Todd Solondz, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Woody Allen. More interesting still are the names as yet unknown, such as Paz Fábrega, Aaron Katz, Li Hongqi, or Gonzalo Castro. For those keen on documentaries there will be works such as The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector by Vikram Jayanti, Apuntes para una biografía imaginaria by Edgardo Cozarinsky, or Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu by Andrei Ujica. Of special interest will be the presence of Lou Reed as a guest of the festival, who will present his film Red Shirley about his 101-year old cousin. There will also be short films by Luc Moullet, Fabian Vasquez Euresti, Thom Andersen, and Ken Jacobs to name a few.

Of course there are some who are critical of the director of the festival, Hans Hurch, for his emphasis on films from the Far East and his neglect of films from the Balkans, while there are others who compare him unfavorably to his predecessor, who is now the director of the Film Museum, Alexander Horwath, but in fairness it has to be said that the quality of the films that have been shown in the last years have been astonishingly high, especially the documentaries, and although this critic was often disappointed there have been more than enough movies to entrance, admire and inspire.

With a budget of roughly two million euros (over twice as much as a festival like Sarajevo has at its disposal) the Viennale is in an enviable position.

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