Towards New Visions: 1970s - 1990s
The 1970s marked a return of narrative films, although these were small, local productions rarely screened in the remaining cinemas or exported. Narratives that would influence the direction of early New Austrian Film are found in Toronto-born director John Cook's Langsamer Sommer (Slow Summer, 1976) and his breakthrough work, Schwitzkasten (Sweat Box, 1978), a realistic examination of the life of the working class. Cook's films followed a Godard-like exploration of the urban neurosis and claustrophobia born of the demand for order and conformity in Austria's conservative society.
One of the leading figures of New German Cinema in the 1970s, Wim Wenders, began his mainstream career with the Austrian production of Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, 1971) which was co-scripted by Austrian author Peter Handke. Austrian-born international actor Maximilian Schell moved behind the camera in what became one of the first examples of this new phase in Austrian filmmaking that attained a measure of global attention. His Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales from the Vienna Woods, 1979) with Birgit Doll, Hanno Pöschl and Helmut Qualtinger was based on the 1930 ödön von Horvath play and scripted by Christopher Hampton.
Although the title suggests a Viennese Film or an imperial epic named after the Johann Strauss Jr. waltz, Schell's film examines the tattered social fabric of interwar Austria, which, as a small republic, is beset by political polarization and economic crisis, and locates its identity in imperial nostalgia or in a looming Nazism. The bleakness and the brutality of relationships, particularly the objectification and abuse of women makes Schell's film drama a universal statement on outmoded gender roles and relationships and on the roots of fascism in the reactionary values of the financially imperiled lower middle class. Another examination of the working class milieu was Wilhelm Pellert's Jesus von Ottakring (Jesus of the Ottakring District, 1976). This modern passion play, which received critical acclaim in Austria, was also viewed by audiences as a welcome commercial direction for the new artistic narrative style.
Axel Corti's Der Fall Jägerstätter (The Case of Jägerstätter, 1972), which was written by Hellmut Andics, explores the plight of Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to be drafted in the army of the Third Reich. Confronted with various representatives of the National Socialist state, the church, family and friends, he concludes that a Christian cannot be a National Socialist and he is imprisoned for his crime. Corti concludes the film by positing the choice of conscience versus duty in several contemporary interviews. The film was a rare first attempt at exploring Austria in the Reich, and questioned the still rather undisputed importance of order above individualism in post-1960s Austrian society. Corti followed this groundbreaking film with Totstellen (Dead Places) in 1975, with the participation of Michael Sharang and Xaver Schwarzenberger. The realistic look at the economic and social constraints of a farmer's son as he attempts to make a life for his girlfriend and their unborn child, attacked the notion of an idyllic agrarian world found in the Heimatfilm.
Director Peter Patzak aimed to establish a politically critical direction in the roots of New Austrian Film and was first popularly known as the creator of a hit detective television series, Kottan ermittelt (Kottan Investigates, 1976 - 1984), which often satirized sociopolitical and cultural clichés. His 1979 Kassbach: Ein Portrait (Kassbach: A Portrait), written by the director with Helmut Zenker garnered him critical attention. Here, actor Walter Kohut portrays Karl Kassbach, a petty bourgeois man who feels threatened by foreigners and deals with the issue in a violent manner. Kassbach's creation of an organization for "Peace, Security and Order" underscores what the director sees as the xenophobia of an urban underclass, victimized by consumerism and idealized cultural nostalgia.
Valie Export, who had not been an Actionist but had created her own experimental performance art style in the 1960s, emerged as one of the leaders of feminist filmmaking with a substantial mainstream following through her reinvention of the sci-fi/body snatching film as a metaphor for female oppression, Unsichtbare Gegner (Invisible Adversaries, 1978), and with the psychological/political thriller on a female reporter's abusive relationships with two men, one a possible illegal arms dealer in Die Praxis der Liebe (The Practice of Love, 1984).
Bookmark/Search this post with: