Viennale: Kino Wien

Vienna hosts an international movie-viewing marathon

On The Town | Michelle Falkenbach | November 2008

A screening at the Gartenbau Kino in the rain (Photo: Reiner Riedler)

The Opening

The 56th annual Viennale International Film festival opened with a bang on Friday, Oct. 17, starting with the highly anticipated trailer by legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard, followed by the widely acclaimed Entre les Murs by Laurent Cantet. Even with a press pass, it was next to impossible to get tickets to the "gala". However, there were rumored to be three "surprise" guests: the leading actors of Entre les Murs – François Bégaudeau, Nassim Amrabt, Laura Baquela –arrived at Gartenbaukino last minute along with Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, cult musician Stefan Weber and star guest Garth Hudson, legendary member of The Band and Winner of the Grammy Life Time Achievement award.

During this two-week movie-viewing marathon I watched over a dozen films, all of which were worthy of an award: Each presented unique ideas, solid and believable characters and innovative cinematography.

Pre Opening

The festival actually began weeks before the first film was screened.  People stood in interminable lines waiting with preorder slips in their hands for their number to be called so they could purchase tickets for one of the movies.  At Generali Center on Mariahilferstrasse, people spread Viennale programs out on the floor, comparing notes with friends on which ones to see, and waiting, and waiting, … and waiting.  Approaches to getting tickets varied: "I can’t see them all," said one man, "so I just pick the ones I like, not the ones that will win the prizes." Others just go for the "proposition" films, that will be "most discussed."

The Internet was really the best way to get tickets:  The Viennale site was terrific, easy to navigate, full of information, press releases, commentaries, on-going events and movie synopses.  The online ticket shop was up-to-date at all times and allowed for reliable reservations.

Not only were Viennale guests – i.e., nearly everyone in town – able to enjoy these very special films in five classic Viennese cinemas, but all were invited to participate in discussions held at the Viennale Zentrale at Urania, as well as attend free receptions and parties throughout the week.

Selected Films

S21: The 101min. documentary film by Rithy Panh captures a remarkably unique atmosphere in which two survivors of the S 21 detention center in Phnom Penh are brought face to face with a dozen of their one-time captors in the now deserted and run down facility.

The documentary asks, "Are these men enemies?" and  "Can we forgive them for what they had done?"  During the 1975-1979 Pol pot regime, Cambodia was a nation confused, the differences between the regime and the terrorized almost non-existent. Only luck determined the side. Most disturbing were the reserved, yet tense exchanges between Vann Nath, the more vocal of the two survivors, and his captors.

"The smell of a truckload of corpses was unbearable," the men explain in the film, "but after the 3rd load, … even the blood didn’t bother [us] anymore." Their eyes were dry, more aged than the rest of them. Remorse and regret were beyond their comprehension.

Leonara: The pride of Argentina, co-funded by South Korea and Brazil, Pablo Trapero’s film "Lion’s Den" wins the prize in my book. We meet Julia, (Martina Guzman) lying face down on her bed.  Awakened, her bloodied hands begin to move, her back is scarred, she has wounds on her neck, but, it seems not to shock her, nor does she seem to know why they’re there.

Found guilty of murder, she is taken to a women’s jail and in the inspections, we first notice that she is pregnant. Most of the movie takes place in the mothers’ ward, raising her son Tomas, and witnessing this rowdy, futile and hostile place.

Guzman is superb, reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s 1999 Oscar winning performance in Girl Interrupted.  We understand as Julia explodes in rage when her estranged mother comes to take away her son. We cry with her when she is sentenced to ten years in prison for a crime, we come to believe she hasn’t committed.

Parque Via: The story of a minimalist life, and one man’s struggle to keep it. This film by Mexican director Enrique Rivero follows the life of Beto, who for the last 30 years has lived and taken care of a house the owners hope to sell, a routine from the alarm at 7:17 a.m. through the unaccustomed brightness of the day to evening when he pulls the curtains shut, settling back into his solitary darkness.

Beto rarely leaves the house; he rarely has visitors: "I don’t hear the noise anymore," he says, "I’m used to it." The simplest ideas become complicated by society.


Werner Schroeter: Gathered at the rather intimate location of Urania’s café/bar, the 64-year-old Schroeter, "one of the most important and influential German filmmakers of German cinema" sat at a small table amongst friends nursing a glass of white wine. Two rather large men sat on either side of him, making him look even smaller as he sat seemingly suffocating in their midst.  Sporting a black top hat, frail, femininely slim with a rather womanly, thin face, he said very little in the 10 or so minutes I spent observing him from a distant corner in the café.  Instead he sat, plagued by cold and constantly coughing, surrounded by photographers incessantly snapping photos.

On stage, Kuhl Brodt, his friend of 40 years sat awaiting him. The tribute had included Tag der Idioten, Malina and Deux as well as his newest film Nuit de Chien, and Austrian premiere and called "the climax of the program." Schroeter looked tired and seemed to have no sense of humor, a man about to crumble into his black leather chair. He never really talked to the audience, but to some far off, distant place in between.

The End

In the closing days, three awards were presented at the end.  The Vienna Film Prize, given to an Austrian feature film release since the Viennale 2007 was awarded with a cash prize of €7000 to the Austria/France/Turkey, Ein Augenblick Freiheit by Arash T. Riahi. The FIPRESCI Prize from the international association of film critics went to the Portugese film Aquele querido mês de Agosto by Miguel Gomes.

And the Standard Readers’ Prize went to American film Momma’s Man by Azazel Jacobs, the tale of a 30-something man in early mid-life-crisis who visits his parents back East and decides to stay. It’s not "a generational thing," Jacobs says, but "a human thing, a man going through different levels of being stuck."

The Vienna Film Festival came to a close on Wednesday evening, having screened 73 films for a total of 92,100 viewers – 400 more than last year.

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    the vienna review November 2008