It is not surprising that a feature film like 1. April 2000 (a fine fantapolitical satire directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner) was made precisely in 1952, seven years after the end of the world war and only three years before the Austrian State Treaty by which, among other things, the nation’s neutrality was officially proclaimed.
Strange presences in the Hofburg
After the end of the Second World War, Austria was trying in every way possible to redeem itself and requalify its position in the eyes of the world. It is not surprising, therefore, that a feature film like 1. April2000 was made precisely in 1952, seven years after the end of the world war and only three years before the Austrian State Treaty with which, among other things, the nation’s neutrality was officially proclaimed.
A film, this one, which ranks as something unique and extraordinary within Austrian cinema – which, in those very years, came from a period in which freedom of expression had been severely restricted – and which, through the form of fantapolitical satire, seems to us to be an apologia for a country and its traditions, revealing a strong, very strong desire to redeem itself, to show the world another side of it.
In realising this, the direction was entrusted to Wolfgang Liebemann – one of the few directors left in the country during Hitler’s dictatorship and also author of pro-Nazi documentaries – who was preferred to the likes of Georg Wilhelm Pabst or Willi Forst.
Thus, 1. April 2000, one of the most expensive feature films ever made in Austria, came to life. But what is it about specifically? The bizarre story staged is set on the date mentioned in the title. Austria has been under the occupation of the Soviet Union, the United States of America, France and Great Britain for no less than fifty-three years, but the newly elected president (an extraordinary Josef Meinrad), wants his nation’s independence at all costs and urges the citizens to tear up the citizenship certificates of the occupying nations. This, however, is not appreciated by the Global Union, the World Defence Committee, which soon raids the Hofburg with its hyper-technological spaceships headed by its strict president (played by Hilde Krahl), who proposes to wipe Austria off the world map by creating a huge open-air museum in its place.
This, then, is only the beginning of a so surreal as well as highly symbolic story for the country. 1. April 2000, in fact, is presented – as the title itself suggests – almost as a prank, a joke, an Earth Day prank in which each of us wonders where reality ends and fiction begins. And if we think of its setting, inside a congress hall in one of the rooms of the Hofburg, we cannot help but be reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Yet, if in some ways the two films share a sharp satire, on the other hand they differ substantially in their so-called final message: while Kubrick’s film shows us a hopeless reality, 1. April 2000 gives us hope for a better future. And not only for Austria.
A film, this one, which, therefore, precisely because of the issues dealt with and the form in which they were staged, differs substantially from what was produced in Austria in those years, if we think that, in fact, the majors of the time preferred costume films or musical comedies more than anything else. It is not surprising, therefore, that Wien Film placed great emphasis on a work like this, in which – in addition to the employment of around 20,000 extras – the futuristic costumes and the simple but fascinating Global Union spaceships that crowd the streets of Vienna are particularly impressive.
The rest is pure history, rendered, however, not too comprehensively on screen thanks to the expedient of including a time machine in the screenplay. Here we have, ther, moments in which Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Sissi come back to the present, but also moments in which the Viennese take part in festive parades or simply enjoy the summer at the traditional heurigen in Grinzig.
And if, especially as we get closer to the end, the screenplay of 1. April 2000 seems at times redundant, one cannot fail to acknowledge the undisputed historical and artistic value of the work as an almost unique Austrian film, in which the science-fiction element is well mixed with a skilful irony (and self-irony) and local traditions, in a truly welcome breath of fresh air.
Original title: 1. April 2000
Directed by: Wolfgang Liebeneiner
Country/year: Austria / 1952
Running time: 101’
Genre: satirical, sci-fi, comedy
Cast: Hilde Krahl, Josef Meinrad, Waltraut Haas, Judith Holzmeister, Elisabeth Stemberger, Ulrich Bettac, Karl Ehmann, Peter Gerhard, Curd Jürgens, Robert Michal, Heinz Moog, Guido Wieland, Paul Hörbiger, Hans Moser, Pepi Glöckner-Kramer, Hans Ziegler, Marianne Schönauer, Alma Seidler, Hans Holt, Fritz Imhoff, Alfred Neugebauer, Leopold Rudolf, Fred Liewehr, Helmut Qualtinger
Screenplay: Rudolf Brunngraber, Ernst Marboe
Cinematography: Sepp Ketterer, Karl Löb, Fritz Arno Wagner
Produced by: Wien Film