In the ensemble film Viennese Girls, director, painter and photographer Kurt Steinwendner – so fascinated by Italian Neorealism that he was inspired by it in every way – draws a fresco of a hardly recovering Vienna after World War II, in which what seems most difficult is to make ends meet, due to the job insecurity that sadly combines with the inhuman conditions of the workers.
After a noteworthy debut in film – with the experimental short film Der Rabe, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven and the first Austrian avant-garde film – director, painter, photographer and artist Kurt Steinwendner was inspired by another film movement for his second work and first fiction feature Viennese Girls (original title: Wienerinnen – Schrei nach Liebe). This movement is precisely Italian Neorealism, of which Steinwendner was fascinated and which he tried, in his own way, to recreate in this important ensemble film divided into four episodes.
Four episodes, then, about four Viennese women, whose daily lives take place mainly in suburban factories or, however, along the streets of the most remote neighbourhoods, sharing a common problem: suffered love, now reciprocated, now not, now contrasted, now completely impossible. These are the stories of Anni (Elisabeth Stemberger) – involved in an incestuous love affair – Helene (Edith Prager) – a young puppeteer in love, unrequited, with a fellow musician (Karlheinz Böhm) – Gabriele (Helmi Mareich) – committed to helping her fiancé, unjustly accused of murder – and, finally, Olga (Margit Herzog) – a young waitress in a relationship with a violent man, who will find refuge in the relationship with a much more sensitive sea captain.
In his Viennese Girls, then, Kurt Steinwendner draws a fresco of a hardly recovering Vienna from World War II, in which the hardest thing seems to be making ends meet, due to a job insecurity that sadly combines with the inhuman conditions of workers. At the same time, we see a city that is destroyed, but slowly begins to recover, still surrounded by crumbling buildings. Similarly, the lack of love and the constant search for it well represents that continuous and constant search for emotional security, which also lacked during the previous years.
This is represented by highly dramatic close-ups of desperate women, moments that follow Zavattini’s theories, minimal sets and, last but not least, a rigorous handheld camera, which is always moving, frenetic, as if it were constantly and desperately searching for something, just like the young protagonists.
Kurt Steinwendner is not afraid to dare in Viennese Girls. He is not afraid to deal with controversial topics – such as incest or prostitution, for instance – nor is he afraid to be daring with the camera itself, with numerous scenes in which we see it move vortically, overturn and leap to the point of confusing us, without making us realise what is really going on.
Given these circumstances, it is obvious that Viennese Girls ranks as something unique in Austrian cinema. And while, similarly to what happened during the war years, most production companies preferred light comedies or musicals telling stories set in the upper-class world, a feature film that spoke (almost) for the first time about poverty could be rather inconvenient (something that also happened in Italy with regard to all neorealist cinema). In the same way, therefore, the audience was not used to watching such works and, preferring much “softer” films, made Viennese Girls, despite its undoubted historical and artistic value, not achieve the desired success in theatres. Except, of course, for what happened abroad. But that is another story.
Original title: Wienerinnen – Schrei nach Liebe
Directed by: Kurt Steinwendner
Country/year: Austria / 1952
Running time: 96’
Genre: drama, ensemble movie
Cast: Maria Eis, Elfe Gerhart, Heinz Moog, Hans Putz, Rolf Wanka, Elisabeth Stemberger, Margit Herzog, Helmi Mareich, Weltner Anni, Hilde Rom, Ellen Umlauf, Hans Lazarowitsch, Kurt Jaggberg, Rudolf Rhomberg, Rudolf Rösner, Wolfgang Hutter, Michael Toost, Florl Leitner, Emmerich Arleth, Karlheinz Böhm, Edith Prager, Kurt Sobotka
Screenplay: August Rieger, Kurt Steinwendner
Cinematography: Elio Carniel, Walter Partsch
Produced by: Schönbrunn-Film