In spite of the diversity of its works, Austrian cinema is too often considered to be a kind of “subject cinema” of the more extensive German cinema, even though from the origins of cinema to the present day there have been many interesting surprises in this field.
A cinema to be discovered
Particularly significant is the speech given by director Stefan Ruzowitzky – after winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for The Counterfeiters – at the 2008 Academy Awards ceremony. This victory, as the director stated, was extremely important for Austria, because it was not only the first Oscar won by an Austrian film, but also the victory of a feature film dealing with the always thorny issue of the Holocaust. This issue has been particularly developed (also in German films), either because of a sense of guilt, or because of a sort of “redemption” of cinema itself, which, during the years of the Nazi dictatorship, saw the emigration (in most cases to the United States) of important representatives of Austrian and world cinema.
We are talking about film directors such as Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Fred Zinneman, Otto Preminger and many others. These directors took their first steps in Austria, but then established themselves on the international scene, ranking as true pillars of film history throughout the world.
And what happened in Austria in the meantime? While in Germany we can still count director Leni Riefenstahl – immediately in the service of the Führer – among the great names of the period, Austria unfortunately experienced a period of stalemate in terms of film production, with films of little relevance and a small number of directors with very limited creative freedom. This “crisis” of Austrian cinema is in fact, according to many, never really over. At least as far as Austrian cinema’s reputation is concerned in the international arena.
Today, if we think about Austrian cinema, except for names such as Michael Haneke, Ulrich Seidl (the latter, however, is not yet sufficiently distributed in Italy) or Jessica Hausner, we immediately think of the film saga dedicated to Princess (and later Empress) Sissi – which includes the feature films Sissi (1955), Sissi – the Young Empress (1956) and Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress (1957), all directed by Ernst Marischka – where the role of Sissi was played by the great (and very resembling!) Romy Schneider. Such successful films, clearly designed to have an international scope, are the most well-known features of this country’s cinema.
And yet, at closer look, there are many talents who, over the decades, have been able to make important contributions to the local seventh art, many of whom, even after the tragic dictatorship, were able to work also abroad.
Very interesting, no doubt. It’s just a pity that, in spite of everything, Austrian cinema has never received the attention it deserves. After a quick overview, in fact, what can (wrongly?) affirm that, in spite of the multiplicity of good works, Austrian cinema is too often considered as a sort of “subject cinema” of the more extensive German cinema. Bizarre. And to think that, from the origins of cinema to the present day, there have been many interesting surprises in this field. You just have to have the will to discover them.