A Space for Peace

in 61st Viennale – Vienna International Film Festival

by Barbara Gasser

Under the leadership of Eva Sangiorgio, the Viennale continues to be a sweet spot for festival lovers as one of the best audience film festivals in the world. In her sixth year as artistic director of the Viennale, Sangiorgi emphasized that she does not aspire to join the festival frenzy but keep the film selection wide open instead. Also, the October slot has proven advantageous for the audience which got to be among the first ones to watch acclaimed films from Cannes and Venice before their official release dates.


One of those Cannes sensations was the Hungarian polit-drama Explanation of Everything (2023) by Gabor Reisz, which served as the Viennale opening film. Other festival favorites included Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things (2023), Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero (2023), and Sofia Coppola’s biopic Priscilla (2023). There was also Ferrari (2023) with Adam Driver, Woody Allen’s film Coup de Chance, and this year’s Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall (Anatomie d’une chute, 2023) by Justine Triet, along with the Berlinale opening film She came to me (2023) and both widely celebrated Wim Wenders’ films Perfect Days (2023) and Anselm (2023). The festival also showed Hong Sang-Soo’s In Our Day (2023), Afire (Roter Himmel, 2023) by Christian Petzold and Bertrand Bonello The Beast (La Bete, 2023) based on a Henry James novelle, Evil Does Not Exist (Aku wa sonzai shinai, 2023) by Ryūsuke Hamaguchis.


Explanation for Everything

The retrospective was dedicated to Chilean director and writer Raul Ruiz. Ruiz is hardly known in Austria and many of the 40 films were screened for the first time. After the military coup in 1973, he left Chile and emigrated to France. The 50th anniversary offered an opportunity to also showcase the history of Chilean film making since then.


Meanwhile, the histography part of the festival recognized the works of James Baldwin and David Schickele. A mixture of blockbusters, auteur films, inspiring independent filmmakers and fascinating retrospectives attracted over 75,000 people during the 13 festival days. An attraction in itself were the locations with many of the films being shown in historic cinemas in the heart of the Austrian capitol. As an audience festival, the Viennale does not feel the usual red-carpet pressure, and sadly French actress Catherine Deneuve had to cancel her appearance last minute due to illness.


Still, this year’s widely popular conversations included Radu Jude, Jennifer Reeder, Angela Schanelec, Pedro Costa and Alba Rohrbacher. A special moment was when Michelle Abt, daughter of the late Oscar winning producer Eric Pleskow, gifted the Oscar statue that her father had won for Amadeus in 1984 to the Viennale.


Out of the eleven features by first or second-time filmmakers, the FIPRESCI award was given to Anna Hints’ documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Savvusanna sõsarad, 2023). It is Hints second film and took the Estonian director seven years in the making, mainly as Hints stated because women were hesitant to open up about their experiences with love, mother-daughter relationships, domestic violence and body shaming.


The Viennale closed with Quentin Dupieux’s dark comedy Yannick (2023). And in her closing speech, Eva Sangiorgi poignantly said, this year’s festival “was not only a place for film, but also a space for reflection and peace, in which the audience showed remarkable participation – a small, thoroughly responsible contribution in this day and age.”

Barbara Gasser
Edited by Pamela Jahn