The international film festival beckons with new films from celebrated auteurs, international gems, intriguing documentaries and Christopher Walken
As the carefree warmth of summer gives way to a reflective autumn, and Vienna’s open-air cinemas head back into hibernation, the schedules are cleared of summer blockbusters and more serious fare comes into focus. What better way to kick of the season than the world-renowned Viennale film festival? In its 54th edition and still going strong, it is easily the centerpiece of the capital’s cinematic calendar, providing a well-balanced fortnight of retrospectives and contemporary works, catering to passionate cinephiles and casual popcorn munchers alike.
Viennale Director, Hans Hurch // © Alexi Pelekanos / Viennale
According to Viennale director Hans Hurch, the festival aspires to discover films “off the beaten track of the market and the media.” It also takes pains to strike a balance and bring in crowd-pleasers from all corners of the world. Amid the highlights are previews of the latest from the likes of Paul Verhoeven and Jim Jarmusch, tributes to the charismatic, often menacing, trained dancer Christopher Walken, as well as the recently deceased master of experimental static camerawork, Peter Hutton. A host of documentaries from far-flung corners of the planet round off the selection.
Best in Show
The Dutch iconoclast Verhoeven, best known for provocative blockbusters like Robocop, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers, makes his French language debut with Elle. A psychological thriller, the inimitable Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Amour) portrays a headstrong businesswoman who flips the script on her stalker following a home invasion, starting a game of cat and mouse that blurs the lines of victim and perpetrator. Having received a seven-minute standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Verhoeven’s first film in 10 years has been hailed as a return to form, following on from his triumphant return to Europe with 2006’s Zwartboek (Black Book).
Huppert also appears in L’Avenir, Mia Hansen-Løve’s lauded tale of a philosophy teacher’s unraveling life. Jim Jarmusch, the darling of American independent cinema (Down by Law, Coffee and Cigarettes), similarly garnered stellar reviews at Cannes with Paterson, with many describing the film as among the director’s very best. Adam Driver (yes, Kylo Ren from the latest Star Wars) leads as the titular Paterson, a bus driver and budding poet who just so happens to live in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. The film’s minimal and repetitive structure follows the banal beauty of Paterson’s everyday, routine existence – until a somewhat inevitable interruption.
In the spirit of discovery, the Viennale has gathered an enviable array of international filmmakers to fall in love with. Radio Dreams, the second feature by Iranian-born director Babak Jalali, uses adept deadpan humour to capture a day in the life of a Farsi-language radio station in San Francisco. Akher Ayam El Madina by Egyptian director Tamer El Said follows a filmmaker’s struggle to retain hope in Cairo, amid the perilous prelude to the Arab Spring.
The lineup of documentaries is similarly promising, including an Anglo-French portrait of France’s self-styled robotic DJs, Daft Punk Unchained, acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s chilling footage of abandoned structures succumbing to nature in Homo Sapiens, and Taiwan-based director Midi Z’s visually striking journey with his estranged older brother into Myanmar’s war-torn Kachin state, Fei Cui Zhi Cheng (City of Jade).
This year’s retrospective program at the Filmmuseum is built around the theme “A Second Life,” exploring remakes, reinterpretations and reimaginings, grouping films that echo and reflect each other. Both versions of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (the British 1934 film and the big-budget 1956 version starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day) will be screened, as will Fritz Lang’s original M alongside Joseph Losey’s American remake. The pool shark classic The Hustler (1961) and Martin Scorcese’s unofficial sequel The Color of Money (1986) show continuity of character, with Paul Newman reprising an older “Fast” Eddie Felson.
Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, his 2003 telling of the Columbine High School massacre, will be given a new context when shown with Alan Clarke’s 1989 short film of the same name, which interpreted a series of murders carried out during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The earlier film’s long steadicam takes were a clear inspiration for Van Sant; the same elusive “elephant in the room” seems to haunt both rampages.
The often-remade director Akira Kurosawa, who himself reimagined Shakespeare, Gorki and Dostoevsky in Japan, will be featured twice: Seven Samurai (1954) will be juxtaposed with the Wild West reimagining The Magnificent Seven (1960) – itself being remade this year. Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) faces off with no fewer than two later visions: Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and Miller’s Crossing (1990) by the Coen Brothers.
As the awards season slowly looms into view, the Viennale once again showcases cinema in all its facets – whether tackling the banality of everyday life, the primacy of nature over man, the beauty of romance, or recurring themes on the reel of cinematic reincarnation.
Oct 20 – Nov 2, various locations. viennale.at