Overall Account

in 51st Viennale - Vienna International Film Festival

by Eithne O'Neill

A symbolic 51st opening night, as the Festival kicks off with the Coen Brothers’ nostalgic Inside Llewyn Davis, named after Inside Dave Van Ronk, the 1961 album of a struggling Greenwich Village song-writer. A fortnight later, a memorial evening is held for Lou Read of Velvet Underground fame. A hallmark of the Viennale, the policy of new talents against a backdrop of established names offered a 300 title-strong program of first and second features and shorts, a meaty Jerry Lewis retrospective and a worthy tribute to Will Ferrell, actor and filmmaker, interviewed with panache by the Paris-based Screen critic Lisa Nesselson in the glamorous Gartenbau movie theatre packed with fans.

Among the international competing titles, The Reunion (?terträffen), a polished Swedish first, in which Anna Odell the film-maker plays the main part, differed from other competitors in its middle-class milieu. Bitter-sweet, with a clever formal twist, this is a wry variation on the theme of embarrassing guests with the truth about themselves. Film-buffs caught up with Mouton, a new jewel by the French duo Marianne Pistone and Gilles Deroo, or with the more post-modern Brazilian Avanti Populo by Michael Wahrmann, an elegy to a brother who vanished under military rule. After its Austrian premiere, Götz Spielmann’s Oktober November will have its enthusiasts.

By way of contrast, Louis Feuillade’s Thi Mih in 12 episodes (1918) and the 12 hour plus version of Jacques Rivette’s Out One — Noli me tangere were also on screen. At the screening of Weekend of a Champion, 1972, where Frank Simon followed the Monaco rally together with Polanski, the Formula One racerJackie Stewart was in conversation with the British film critic and sportsman, Neil Young who also introduced James Benning’s beautiful take on the seasons in Montana: Semple Pass. Last but not least, this year was the chance to view the 1961 classical Chinese Animation, The Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven (Da Nao Tian Gong), by Wan Laiming, Tang Cheng, Su Da and Chen Zhihong, a restored copy with 3D and a riot of colors for children of all ages!

Variety reached a high point in the international competition, where documentary and fiction films vied with each other. This makes sense since a hard and fast boundary between the categories is being seriously challenged. A feast in itself, the overall documentary section in the Viennale was comprised of no less than 73 titles from 2012 and 2013, even counting multi-installment entries as one. Filmgoers had the opportunity to enjoy Helio Oiticica, about the Brazilianartist, Helio Oiticica Filho’s contribution to the fabulous visual art movement «Tropicalia», and Marcel Ophüls’ self-portrait Ain’t Misbehavin (Un Voyageur). Nor is there any excuse now for missing the poignant The Missing Picture (L’Image manquante) by the Cambodian Rithy Panh.

Two competing documentaries were particularly challenging in length. At this point, the 3hour –long ironic and devastating revelation of The Act of Killing is universally acclaimed. For its part, Manakamana shows six different pilgrims or groups being hoisted by cable car over the lush mountains to the Hindu temple in Nepal which inspired the film’s title. The real 10 minute time taken for the ride is accompanied by the rhythm of the realistic sound-track. Silence alternates with the odd dry remark and goats shriek as the cabins sway past pylons. Such directorial rigorwould have benefited Locke, Stephen Knight’s psychological thriller with the driver at the wheel of his car from start to finish.

Themes of injustice and social unrest are not exclusive to the documentary form. In competition, The Selfish Giant, a first feature from Great Britain by Clio Barnard, a visual arts trained filmmaker, and author of the much praised documentary The Arbor (2010), describes the fight to survive of working-class teenage boys from post-industrial Bradford. Chronic unemployment and the deprivation of youth frame a coming of age tale that despite the distress it relates has poetry for the eye. After all, the title comes from an exquisite tale by the Irish writer Oscar Wilde! Also by a young woman, Rebecca Zlotowski, Grand Central, a French entry, deals with the dangerous work conditions of cleaners in a nuclear power station. Two of France’s stars, Léa Seydoux (seen in Blue is the Warmest Color, this year’s Golden Palm) and Tahar Rahim play the electrifying couple, with Denis Ménochet in his element as the patient official lover. For its committed viewpoint, combined with passion unfolding in the landscape around, this second feature won the critics’ prize which was presented to the film director herself. To round off the female trio, the French director Katell Quillévéré presents Suzanne with Sarah Forestier, who debuted in Abdellatif Kechice’s Games of love and chance (L’Esquive). The Standard Viennale Public prize was awarded to The Strange Little Cat (Das Merkwürdige Kätzchen), a disarmingly elliptical German first about everyday family life by Ramon Zürcher. The Wiener Filmpreis was awarded to Ulich Seidl for his Paradise trilogy, while Shirley-Visions of Reality by Gustav Deutsch won the prize given by Die Erste Bank.

A foil to the dominant U.S. and European productions, the seven documentaries in international competition include the Georgia-Germany coproduction, The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear (Manqana, romelic kvelafers gaaqrobs). India is depicted in Powerless (Katiyabaaz), the play of words on electrification reminding us of the exploitation shown in Panh’s People of Angkor (Les Gens d’Angkor). To the Wolf (Sto Lyko), a 74′ Greek documentary, stood out as an uncompromising and sober portrayal of benighted mountain villagers in Western Greece today. First-time directors Christina Koutsospyrou and Aran Hughes chose to end with a skilful surprise off screen happening in a noteworthy blend of the documentary and fictional modes. Q.E.D! Vivat the Viennale!

Edited by Tara Judah