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If VALIE EXPORT (born Waltraud Lehner) with her photographs, installations and video installations has become world-famous since the 1970s, it was not long before she made her debut in the world of seventh art. Invisible Adversaries, made in 1976, is therefore his first feature film, in which numerous influences from other art forms are evident.

Strange invasions in Vienna

One of the most prominent names – since the mid-1970s – in the world of contemporary art, VALIE EXPORT (pseudonym – written rigorously in capital letters – of Waltraud Lehner) immediately classified herself as one of the leading exponents of feminist activism in those years. And while her photographs, installations and video installations have made her world famous, it was not long before she made her debut in the world of seventh art. And, in fact, so it was. Invisible Adversaries (original title: Unsichtbare Gegner), made in 1976, is, therefore, her first feature film, in which numerous influences from other art forms are evident.

As a debut film, then, Invisible Adversaries is so rich in ideas and content that it simply reveals a very, very great knowledge on the part of the director, which in turn is also the result of further ideas from other filmmakers.

In a Vienna undergoing change, alarming news spreads of the invasion of the so-called Hyksos: a species of extraterrestrial creatures that kill humans and then take on their appearance. This shocking news will turn the life of Anna (Susanne Widl), a photographer and video artist, who has been in a relationship with Peter (Peter Weibel) for some time, which will inevitably be damaged by the unusual situation in which they both live.

What VALIE EXPORT wanted to show in his Invisible Adversaries is, above all, the incommunicability among human beings, due also – and above all – to the pervasive media and technology. And if, on the other hand, we see an ever-changing Vienna – with roads and new tram lines under construction – it seems to have no place – or, better still, no consideration – for the human being (the elliptical structure of the feature film is particularly significant in this regard, with an incipit and a conclusion in which the camera, starting from the protagonist’s bedroom, goes backwards out of the window to give us suggestive views of the city from above). Particularly meaningful, moreover, are the photo inserts that alternate with live action shots with figures filmed in the same pose as the photographs, representing human bodies that seem almost without lifeblood.

And while the dialogues between the characters seem to us – as the plot goes on – increasingly alienating, artificial and mechanical, this effect is further emphasised by television screens placed close to the characters that repeat their words and movements in delay, as well as by Godardian editing cuts thanks to which we see the protagonists repeating the same lines twice.

Yes, Godardian. Because, in fact, after watching Invisible Adversaries what we notice most are the Swiss filmmaker’s influences on EXPORT’s directorial approach. And so, with a good dose of A Married Woman, as well as A Woman Is a Woman, we attend to the vicissitudes of Anna and Peter and the gradual break-up of their relationship. And if, along with the deliberate ungrammaticalities, we also notice the distorted and amplified sound effects, that also reminds us of David Lynch’s shocking cinema (although, of course, it is impossible for EXPORT to have been inspired by him, since his debut feature, Eraserhead, was released one year later). Yet these are not the only references to other directors we find in Invisible Adversaries. From a first, brief reading of the synopsis, in fact, one cannot help but be reminded – if we think of the so-called Hyksos – of the cult film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (directed by Don Siegel in 1956), although apparently VALIE EXPORT never had the opportunity to watch this film at the time.

But, in fact, what are these Hyksos? Basically, they are a tribe originating in ancient Egypt whose birth and subsequent sudden disappearance are still a mystery today. And yet, they fascinated EXPORT to such an extent that she finally managed to find a proper place for them in her feature film.

As a debut film, then, Invisible Adversaries is what one might call a real triumph of ideas and influences from every field: from video art to photography to painting, even with a welcome touch of meta-cinema. Yet, not least, an important feminist message dominates the entire meaning of the work. This is perfectly in line with VALIE EXPORT’s poetics, which made the artist one of the leading exponents of 1970s feminism. All this thanks to a multifaceted and uncommon talent, which could not have failed to find its own expression in the world of the seventh art. And in this regard, Invisible Adversaries is only the first of a series of feature films, as the natural crowning glory for one of Austria’s most versatile artists.

Original title: Unsichtbare Gegner
Directed by: VALIE EXPORT
Country/year: Austria / 1976
Running time: 104’
Genre: romance, drama, experimental
Cast: Susanne Widl, Peter Weibel, Josef Plavec, Monica Helfer-Friedrich, Helke Sander, Dominick Dusek, Herbert Schmid, Edward Neversal
Screenplay: Peter Weibel, VALIE EXPORT
Cinematography: Wolfgang Simon
Produced by: VALIE EXPORT Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Invisible Adversaries on; the page of Invisible Adversaries on iMDb