The 10 Best Vienna Moments on Film

and a few interesting also-rans

On The Town | Eugene Quinn | May 2010

Weibliche Assentierung

(1908, Austria, director unknown)

Early Austrian naughtiness.

Thomas Ballhausen (TB), Austrian Film Archive (AFA): "There was a tendency to make local eroticism, especially in the mute film era. The first-ever film production company in Vienna, Saturn, only made erotic short films. They mostly did adult remakes of French originals (made for a general audience). They tried to be more direct and they’re often very funny.


Letter from an Unknown Woman

(U.S.A., 1948, director Max Ophüls)

Moving, atmospheric noir, as Hollywood discovers Vienna

TB: "Yes, I think that is a great film – about the aristocracy, set in 1900."

Movie bible IMDB has this to say: "From the master of romantic period confections - Max Ophuls, an exquisitely beautiful and poignant tale of a teenage girl who falls in unrequited love with a concert pianist (Louis Jourdain).


The Third Man

(1949, U.K., director Carol Reed)

Murky goings-on in underworld ruins.

Alexandra Czernin-Morzin (AC), from the Vienna Film Commission (VFC): "It shows a part of Vienna which is not so known. I can say from 10 productions coming from abroad to shoot in Vienna, at least eight will ask to shoot exactly there, in the drains of the city, which is not so easy today."


The Night Porter

(1974, ltaly, Liliana Cavani, original title: Il Portiere di Notte, in Italian)

Dark relations between former SS commander and his concentration camp detainee: An ex-Nazi scientist hides out as a hotel porter after the War. One day a very rich woman enters the place, a woman he recognizes as one of his concentration-camp sex-experiment subjects...

Thirteen years after WWII, the camp survivor (Charlotte Rampling) and her tormentor (Dirk Bogarde) fall back into their sado-masochistic relationship. Melancholy stuff.


Seven percent Solution

(1976, U.K./U.S.A., director Herbert Ross)

Holmes meets Freud.

TB: "It starts in London, with Sherlock Holmes completely down and Watson tricks him into coming to Vienna, where Freud is going to analyse him. So as Freud is helping Holmes, Holmes starts to help Freud. It’s a smart and funny film. It’s an insider film, a cult."

Wow! A British Sigmund-meets-Sherlock film! This is the Film Archive at its best.


Kottan Ermittelt

(1976-83, ORF tv)

Amoral, Pythonesque crime series.

TB: "Definitely on the list! It was a television experiment in how to think about police work. There was a lot of discussion and angry letters to ORF."

Some people see the Vienna police as old-fashioned and corrupt. Does it reflect that? Or is it from the perspective of the police? "Yeah, but it gives a very blurred and absurd picture of the police at work. The idea was genius, to look at dirty, lowlife Vienna."

Currently being re-made, with the original widely available on dvd.


Exit... Nur Keine Panik

(1980, Austria, director Franz Novotny)

A gangster film set around Prater.

TB: "You have Exit on your list, and rightfully – it is one of the most important Austrian films ever. The script by Gustav Ernst and Franz Novotny’s work as a director is brilliant.

[on Austrians’ relationship with nudity on film] There were always discussions going on if that was the proper way to do it. There is a very ordinary way to deal with nudity, it’s nothing special. Just the way it is. I like it."


Good News

(1990, Austria, director Ulrich Seidl)

A documentary on the lives of street newspaper-sellers.

From Ulrich Seidl, who also directed the more famous [and notorious] Hundstage. TB: "Great film, out of this very difficult realm between documentary and fiction. Focused on this city, a very good Viennese and Vienna-looking film."

This is the one with the most humanity, and the most Vienna. A deeply ironic title.


Before Sunrise

(1995, U.S.A., director Richard Linklater)

Two students, one American, the other French, meet on a train from Budapest to Vienna and get to know each other better as they explore Vienna for one day and night. A quirky, arthouse hit which looks at the city in a beautiful way. Residents will note it is impossible to make some of the strolls they seem to, since at every turn, they are in a new part of the city.



(2008, Austria, director Götz Spielmann, foreign-language Oscar nominee)

TB: "Yes, I enjoyed this a lot. It’s well-narrated and things are worked together cleverly. It’s influenced by the British and American ideas of an unreliable narrator. A strong and intense look inside parts of Viennese society."







(1984, U.S.A., director Milos Forman) 

Won 8 Oscars. Screenplay and original stage production by UK writer Peter Shaffer (UK). Camp Mozart biopic told in flashback by rival Salieri. No major stars. 2h 40mins long! Says Ballhausen of the Film Archive: "Perhaps that is one of my guilty pleasures; it’s really high pop. A lot of clichés about Austria and the court. But not conscious cliché. It is like a bad Peter Greenaway film, packed with stuff. The dialogue is heightened and stylised, glossy and dated.



(2006, Austria/France/Germany/UK, director Raoul Ruiz) 

Starring John Malkovich. TB: "That’s a nice one. It’s properly done, well-crafted, didn’t do much business. Not a really big or intellectual film, but a great advert for turn of the 20th century Vienna.



(1999, Austria, director Barbara Albert) 

Some beautiful moments, but this is grim and grimy contemporary Vienna, intensely urban, featuring sexual harassment and refugees, focused on the lives of two confused young women.


The Piano Teacher

(Die Klavierspielerin, 2001, Austria/France/Germany, director Michael Haneke) 

A young man romantically pursues his masochistic piano teacher. Parts of it are unwatchable and cruel. Deeply uncomfortable viewing, and not for the faint-hearted.


Café Elektric

(1927, Austria, director Gustav Ucicky) 

TB: "It shows the underground world of Vienna in the late 20s. A great, evocative movie, giving women a very high-profile and modern look.



(1955, Austria, director Ernst Marischka)

A naive romantic matinee. Not the greatest film, but, like Sissi herself, occupies an iconic position inmany Austrian women’s hearts.

AC: "This is the cliché. That’s not Vienna today, which is a modern, lively city. The court doesn’t exist anymore. We are living now."


Vienna in Film - A Century of City Images

May 27 to Sep. 19

Wien Museum


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