Metropole’s Ten Films to Watch at the Viennale 2021

After a challenging 2020 that saw the festival cut short by a November lockdown, the 59th iteration of the Viennale 2021 roars back with some 240 films from the world over shown in five cinemas – including the resplendent, newly renovated Gartenbaukino! If you’re spoilt for choice, don’t despair – here are METROPOLE’s top picks for Vienna’s premier cinematic event!

(c) Viennale

10. Medusa

Anita Rocha da Silveira (Brazil) 2021; Portuguese with English subtitles. Oct 23, 21:30 & Oct 25, 13:30, Urania

Only her second feature, young director Anita Rocha da Silveira crafts a scathing satire of Brazil’s rising religious right, depicting a dystopian near-future where gangs of masked girls mete out vigilante justice on “sinners” and post their exploits on social media while the boys in the local militia do calisthenics in camo pants. Owing more than a little to genre masters like Dario Argento and John Carpenter, it’s garish and audacious, a feminist sci-fi horror. The director will be present for the screening.

(c) Viennale

9. Zeroes and Ones

Abel Ferrara (Germany, UK, Italy, USA) 2021; in English. Oct 30, 17:30, Gartenbau & Oct 31, 14:00, Urania

A regular sight at the festival, cult director and longtime expat Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York) took full advantage of last year’s hard lockdown for his latest film: Featuring a gaunt and intense Ethan Hawke as a shadowy military operative trying to foil a terrorist attack in Ferrara’s chosen hometown of Rome, the film’s empty streets are an eerie backdrop for this terse, grimy thriller, adding to the anxiety and paranoia – as are the facemasks, hand sanitizer, and zoom calls. Abel Ferrara and actor Cristina Chiriac will attend.

(c) Viennale

8. Benediction

Terence Davies (UK) 2021; in English. Oct 23, 11:00, Gartenbau & Oct 24, 20:30 Filmmuseum.

Highly regarded as one of Britain’s foremost contemporary directors, Terence Davies will be honored at this year’s Viennale with a screening of his entire filmography, including gems like the 2011 drama The Deep Blue Sea and his acclaimed documentary about growing up in Liverpool, Of Time and the City. A meticulous chronicler of society’s outsiders, Davies, in his most recent work, covers the life of decorated WWI veteran and poet Siegfried Sassoon, a man who sought redemption in the settings of the interwar years, from the trenches of the western front to the salons of London, in his anti-war activism, his many affairs with prominent men and his eventual marriage and embrace of Catholicism. Mr. Davies will attend the screening.

7. Les Sorcières d L’Orient (The Witches of the Orient)

Julien Faraut (France) 2021; Japanese and Russian with English subtitles. Oct 25, 21:15, Metro & Oct 27, 16:00, Urania

After previously covering tennis legend John McEnroe, documentary filmmaker Julien Faraut turns to the Japanese women’s volleyball team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, interspersing archival footage with modern-day interviews as well as scenes from the anime they inspired, to tell the engaging story of a former factory team that won an astounding 258 games in a row – bringing them well-earned fame and, eventually, gold after a grueling finale against the Soviet Union. The director will be present for the screening.

(c) Viennale

6. Memoria

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Colombia, Thailand, Great Britain, Mexico, France, China, Taiwan) 2021; English and Spanish with English subtitles. Oct 26, 20:30, Gartenbau & Oct 28, 17:45, Stadtkino

A favorite on the festival circuit, Palme d’Or-winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul makes his first cinematic departure from his native Thailand: In Memoria, he chooses Colombia as an apt backdrop for his trademark fantastic realism with Tilda Swinton as his protagonist – a British orchid expert plagued by mysterious noises only she can hear. Tying for this year’s jury prize with Ha’Berech (Ahed’s Knee, also showing at the Viennale) at the Cannes Film Festival, producer Simon Field will attend the screening.

Courtesy of Focus Features

5. The Sparks Brothers

Edgar Wright (USA) 2020; in English with German subtitles. Oct 30, 23:00, Stadtkino & Oct 31, 11:00, Urania

Best known for quirky crowd-pleasers like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright delves into a documentary for the first time with this portrait of brothers Ron and Russell Mael – better known as the wildly eccentric band Sparks – who, despite their outsize influence on popular music, has been chasing fame in their native USA since the 1960s. With over 50 years of archival footage at his disposal, animated interludes (with Simon Pegg voicing John Lennon) and interviews by collaborators and admirers ranging from Giorgio Moroder, “Weird Al” Jankovic, Flea, Beck, and Neil Gaiman, Wright has produced a touching celebration of artistic integrity and reinvention. Incidentally, Sparks also contributed the screenplay and soundtrack of Annette, also showing at this year’s Viennale (see no. 1).

(c) Viennale

4. Spencer

Pablo Larraín (Germany, UK) 2021; in English with German subtitles. Oct 25, 11:30; Oct 27, 6:30 & Oct 30, 23:00, Gartenbau

Gaining numerous accolades for his 2016 biopic of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Jackie), Chilean director Pablo Larraín sets his sights on Diana, Princess of Wales, as she is compelled to spend the holidays among her in-laws amid reports of her husband’s infidelity. Featuring Kristen Stewart as a reluctant royal crushed by expectations, rigid protocol and public scrutiny, this evocative portrait is aided by a screenplay by Stephen Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Peaky Blinders) and a soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead).
(c) Viennale

3. Land of Dreams

Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari (USA, Germany, Qatar) 2021; English and Farsi with English subtitles. Oct 27, 17:30 & Oct 28, 14:30, Gartenbau

Working with the late screenwriting legend and frequent Luis Buñuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière, Iranian-American filmmakers and visual artists Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari craft a deliciously delirious portrait of modern America’s insecurities by following a census taker (Sheila Vand) as she quizzes residents on their dreams “for their security,” with a laconic cowboy (Matt Dillon) as her bodyguard. A surreal road movie into the collective unconscious. Co-director Shirin Neshat and actor Matt Dillon will attend.

2021 Focus Features LLC. All rights reserved.

2. The Card Counter

Paul Schrader (USA, UK, PRC) 2021; in English. Oct 22, 14:30 & Oct 30, 20:30, Gartenbau

Celebrated as both a screenwriter (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) and director (American Gigolo, First Reformed) Paul Schrader once again explores morality, guilt, and redemption in this gritty thriller about a deeply traumatized former Abu Ghraib torturer (Oscar Isaac) who clings to card games to cope with his past. Drawn out of self-imposed isolation by a gambling acquaintance (Tiffany Haddish), his former civilian contractor superior (Willem Dafoe), and the vengeful son of a fellow veteran (Tye Sheridan), he seeks to save the latter but is really atoning for his own misdeeds.

(c) Viennale

1. Annette

Leos Carax (France, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Mexico) 2020; English with German subtitles. Oct 23, 17:30 & Oct 29, 23:00, Gartenbau

Vivid and unapologetically odd, this pop opera by director Leos Carax (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, Pola X)  is a fairy tale for the #metoo era, starring Adam Driver as Henry, an arcerbic American stand-up comedian who marries old-world opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard). When their relationship sours and Ann dies under suspicious circumstances, their daughter (the titular Annette – played by a marionette) inexplicably inherits her mother’s singing voice, with which she calls out her father’s sins. Written and scored by Sparks (see no. 5), this cautionary tale of toxic masculinity won Carax best director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.