Nothing But The Truth By Gunnar Landsgesell

in 43rd Viennale

by Gunnar Landsgesell

It was no surprise that the attendance of the Viennale 05 hit a new record. With 86.200 visitors in 12 days, a high cohesion between programme and audience was achieved. Festival director Hans Hurch did not increase the number of films shown, but added a fifth cinema to lower the number of those leaving cinema box-offices empty handed.

Opening with the popular choice of Woody Allen’s Match Point, this was at the same time very exclusive: Cannes and Vienna have reportedly been the only two festivals being granted the right to show Allen’s new film. Maybe the same applied to the tribute to Jane Birkin (who gave an acclaimed concert in the Viennese Volkstheater) and the retrospective of Andy Warhol: “Why Warhol Matters”.

In the last years the Viennale has been reconciling cineaste claims with broad effects. Challenging documentaries by Avi Mograbi, Abraham Ravett, Romuald Karmakar, Monika Borgmann or Lav Diaz (all of them festival-guests) were received with equal attention to films by Lars von Trier, Hsiao-sien Hou, Abel Ferrara, Stanley Kwan, Aoyama Shinji and Gus van Sant. With nearly 50 percent of the total films being classified as documentaries, the Viennale seems to have reached a remarkable level of a lively, direct cinema culture. This approach may be symbolized by the screening of Lav Diaz’ eleven-hour family anthology Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (The Evolution of a Filipino Family) which was shown entrance free in the Stadtkino. In raw black-and-white images, Diaz associates the destiny of a family with state politics by mainly showing how infrastructural deficits and oppression of the far off Manila-based administration effect people’s daily lives.

With Masahista (The Masseur) by Brillante Mendoza another highly acclaimed Filipino film was presented by the Viennale. This brilliantly composed film tells the story of a gay massage salon and the daily work of one of its masseurs in a context of rituals, sexuality, tradition and family burden. In Masahista the human body is dialectically revealed as an artefact of both life and death. Mendoza’s work was shown as one of 12 films constituting a special programme called “Propositions”. The second edition again followed the idea of showing films with a rather unusual approach, a special semiotic and political attitude, introducing to and expanding the festivals whole idea of an essential world cinema.

A film that very much deserved to be shown in this programme is Melegin düsüsü (Angel’s Fall) by Semi Kapanoglu. The story of a Turkish woman being sexually abused by her father is not only a rare feminist contribution, but is told in a thrilling, introspective way that opens fields of thought by its narrative perspectives. The same applies to Nekam achat mishtey eynay (Avenge But One of My Two Eyes). Avi Mograbi, in a highly intelligent documentary on land-taking and army oppression, reveals national myths of Israel like a mirror on society, proposing the biblical Samson as the first suicide bomber.

The times of dramatic socio-economic transformation was one of the main themes characterizing many festival films. On a political level one could mention the GIs Anti-Vietnam-research Sir! No Sir! (by David Zeiger) providing an antithesis of today’s media-war-cultures; on a cultural level Rithy Pan’s sensitive Les artistes du théatre brûlé on a dying culture in Cambodia; on an economic level Raymond Depardon’s Profils paysans: Le quotidian on the monopolization and vanishing of rural and peasant industries; or on a rather individual level, several trendy documentaries focussing on transgender/body politics like Between the Lines, in which the German director Thomas Wartmann portrays Indian Hijras.

Not only from an Austrian perspective, but the winner of the Viennese Film Award was received with great delight. Operation Spring, written and directed by Angelika Schuster and Tristan Sindelgruber, is a documentary thriller about the biggest police operation against Africans suspected of belonging to a Nigerian drug ring in Austria. The research of the filmmakers seems to have caused new action on a obviously bizarrely flawed case of police and judiciary investigations.