johanna-dohnal-visionary-of-feminism-2019-die-dohnal-derflinger-review

JOHANNA DOHNAL – VISIONARY OF FEMINISM

      No Comments on JOHANNA DOHNAL – VISIONARY OF FEMINISM

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian) Deutsch (German)

by Sabine Derflinger

grade: 7

Although the women’s rights activist Johanna Dohnal is no longer with us for almost ten years, Sabine Derflinger, in her Johanna Dohnal – Visionary of Feminism, has managed to describe her perfectly, with many small pieces that, considered as a whole, form a unique, big portrait. At the Viennale 2019.

On the women’s side

A face with delicate, reassuring features. A strong, imposing figure, with an unmistakable presence. A cigarette always lit in her hand, together with a haircut that reminds us so much of a very young Lady D. If there is one person who, in Austria, has made a real difference to the acknowledgement of women’s rights, it is Johanna Dohnal, who passed away in 2010 and, in the 1980s, was State Secretary for the SPÖ party. Thanks to her, then, certain rights concerning maternity leave or the working world were finally aknowledged. She – and her important activities – inspired numerous movements in defence of women’s rights, which are still active today.

Her important figure was then celebrated by director and documentary filmmaker Sabine Derflinger, who, on the occasion of the Viennale 2019, presented to the audience her Johanna Dohnal – Visionary of Feminism (original title: Die Dohnal), an interesting documentary that traces all the stages of Johanna Dohnal’s political career, from her election to her early dismissal from her position as State Secretary, due to the “too direct” way she expounded her purposes.

Johanna Dohnal – Visionary of Feminism presents an elliptical structure. An elliptical structure in which extracts from Dohnal’s own diaries concerning her removal from political office appear on the screen at the opening and closing of the film, revealing a character who, from the very beginning, seems so charismatic and self-confident that we can even imagine how ‘inconvenient’ she might have been for anyone in government or, even worse, from the Opposition.

A film, this one, which includes a great deal of footage, old interviews with Johanna Dohnal herself or with people on the street, testimonies from those who knew the activist personally (among them, her daughter, her granddaughter, Annemarie Aufreiter, her lifelong partner, and even her personal chauffeur) and also, from time to time, old photographs showing a very young Johanna Dohnal at work or playing with her children. Despite the fact that Dohnal herself is no longer with us for almost ten years, Sabine Derflinger has managed to characterise her perfectly in this precious work, with many small pieces that, considered as a whole, form a unique, big portrait.

The mise-en-scene is decidedly classical, devoid of any directorial virtuosity. And it works, effectively. Sabine Derfinger, for her part, in creating this heartfelt portrait of Dohnal, has decided to get straight to the point. Without getting lost in unnecessary preamble or distracting from her initial intentions. Just as Johanna Dohnal herself would have done. And this, although overly linear, is perhaps the only possible mise en scène for a documentary about this character who was so important to 20th century Austria. And not only.

Original title: Die Dohnal
Directed by: Sabine Derflinger
Country/year: Austria / 2019
Running time: 105’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Sabine Derflinger
Cinematography: Christine A. Maier, Eva Testor
Produced by: Plan C Filmproduktion, Derflinger Film

Info: the page of Johanna Dohnal – Visionary of Feminism on the website of the Viennale; the page of Johanna Dohnal – Visionary of Feminism on the website of the Austrian Film Commission