Travelling via the Silver Screen

in Viennale '20 – Vienna International Film Festival

by Pia Reiser

My three favorite films of this year’s Viennale are trips into the past

Well, this was close. One day before the movie theatres in Austria will be closed again due to new Covid-19 restrictions, the Viennale comes to an end.  The Truffle Hunters (2020) is the closing film of the festival and as an attendant of a film festival sometimes you also feel like a truffle hunter. The next precious cinematic experience, maybe even your new favorite film might be just around the corner. For Eva Sangiorgi, the director of the International Film Festival a streaming edition of the Viennale was never an option and she is right. Truffles only grow on big screens. 

This year’s Viennale was shorter than usual but took place in more movie theatres and, for the first time, there was cooperation between the Viennale and the Diagonale – the Festival of the Austrian film that was cancelled in March. With clubs being closed and concerts not really taking place, the movie theatre was not kind of the only but also the best and safest place to spend your free time. And, as usual, the Viennale does not primarily present itself as a festival that sees film as escapist pleasures but more as an invite to new, daring and challenging places. 

Kill It And Leave This Town  (Zabij to i wyjedz z tego miasta, 2020) by Mariusz Wilczyński – the film that blew us members of the FIPRESCI jury away – was one of them. A surrealistic, disturbing, puzzling trip, an animated film full of surprises and haunting images. 

A film that was in the works for 15 years. Another – very different – cinematic trip was the film My Mexican Bretzel (2019), by Spanish director Nuria Gimenez Lorang. Found footage used to create a completely new narrative. The director uses her grandparent’s home videos, which basically take place anywhere other than home, since the two of them are globetrotters, to tell an intriguing story about a wealthy couple. Via subtitles we get a glimpse into the inner world of the woman – who is called Vivian – through her diary entries. The sometimes technicolor-ed looking footage of the couple skiing, sailing, meeting friends is superbly contrasted with Vivian’s thoughts about life, love and partnership. The sound design of My Mexican Bretzel is very clever and innovative, the film dares to be silent for the most part and only uses some very effective sound effects. The film opens with, “Lies are just another way of telling the truth”, which is especially true when it comes to film. 

Another trip very worth taking, and another film that takes a lot of its strength from the contrast between people’s behavior and their emotions is Mona Fastvold’s sophomore feature The World to Come (2020). For a long time women did not play a major role in films about American pioneers, Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff is one of few examples that explored and provided a female point of view of that time. Fastvold’s film takes us to rural America in the 1850s, where Abigail (Katherine Waterston) will one day meet Tallie (Vanessa Kirby). Both women are married to farmers, both want more than what the world will provide them with. It is a stunning and arresting film about a connection between two people, about desire and wanting to break free. The release of The World to Come in Austria will likely be postponed but, trust me, it is worth being patient and when movie theatres are open again be sure to get a ticket for this film, which is another example of a period drama that features multilayered, complex female characters.

Pia Reiser
Edited by Amber Wilkinson