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by Harald Röbbeling

grade: 8

Asphalt takes its cue from some real-life stories and adopts a mise-en-scene that closely resembles Neorealism. And so, the result is a film divided into five episodes, incredibly rational in its irrationality. A film that openly speaks out against the war and – although the war has been over for many years now – points the finger directly at a hypocritical and conservative society. .

What will happen to young people?

Asphalt, directed by Harald Röbbeling in 1951, stands as a true gem within Austrian cinema. Yet, in order to best frame a feature film like this, one must make a few considerations about the historical period in which it was shot.

Thus, if throughout the 1930s and 1940s Austrian cinema was predominantly centred on the production of so-called Wiener Films – often romantic or musical comedies set in the world of the upper middle class – then after World War II, although these films represented an important part of the national film production, the music changed. And with a great desire for renewal, new film languages began to be experimented with in absolutely unconventional stories. Thus, alongside ‘extreme’ artistic movements such as Viennese Actionism or, quite simply, experimental cinema, there are a series of feature films that tell of, for example, ‘the other face of Vienna’, that is, certain realities far different from the dancing and colourful Vienna that we have seen in the Wiener Films for years, concerning in particular certain people living on the margins of society and who, in the immediate post-war period, were struggling to find their own balance and place in the world.

Thus, the famous Viennese Girls belongs to this movement, as does Asphalt, which, similarly to its contemporary works, draws heavily on the Italian Neorealism that was at its height in those years. Cinema of reality, then, by new ways of using the camera and of understanding cinema itself, aimed, in this case, at shocking the spectator and impressing him to the core.

Asphalt, then, is based on some real-life stories. To this end, the director – here also author of the screenplay – exploited some police reports that documented certain facts exclusively concerning teenagers. Thus, the result is a film divided into five episodes, interspersed with the voices of commentators and journalists who, from time to time, before introducing a new episode, make a few remarks concerning the reasons why young people break the law and harm themselves and others.

These are the stories of Erika, a seventeen-year-old girl who works as a dancer in a night club, Walter, a thirteen-year-old boy whose father has been arrested and who, in order to help his family financially, starts stealing, Gabriele, a girl from a good family who, having become pregnant, knows that her parents are not at all willing to help or understand her, Karl, a boy who is teased and bullied by everyone, and Helli, who, forced by her mother to get money by selling stolen flowers at the cemetery, soon ends up in shady business.

Five stories, then, for five different situations connected only by a great loneliness and a great need for love. And the director, for his part, although aware of the numerous problems that a film like Asphalt would have had with censorship, shows us reality as it is. A direction that, in a Zavattini-like manner, follows the protagonists during their days, alternates with a often rotating camera, with a lot of oblique and disorienting shots, similar to what the great Jean Vigo did in 1930 in his masterpiece À propos de Nice.

Strong emotions, then, accompany the audience throughout the entire screening of the film. A dark and disenchanted feature film, within which there is no hope for a better future. And the very age of the young protagonists becomes deeply emblematic, together with the use of black and white and the clear prevalence of shadows over light, with even scenes shot at night in which we see the youngsters walking desperately through the streets of the city.

A film, Asphalt, which is quite hard and incredibly rational in its irrationality. A film that openly speaks out against the war and – although the war has been over for many years now – points its finger directly at a hypocritical and conservative society, within which a dangerous latent fascism still seems so alive and pulsating. Young people are driven to delinquency and a dissolute life. But who, in reality, are the real culprits? Harald Röbbeling has no doubt about that. And he has expressed his theories in a powerful, shouted, angry, painful feature film that, in its particular artistic expression, seems to us, today, so incisive, so precious, so tremendously fascinating.

Original title: Asphalt
Directed by: Harald Röbbeling
Country/year: Austria / 1951
Running time: 85’
Genre: drama, ensemble movie
Cast: Johanna Matz, Viktor Gschmeidler, Milan von Kamare, Anni Korin, Helmut Krauss, Edith Meinel, Inge Novak, Hannes Schiel, Franz Bernd, Reinhold Siegert, Heinz Farda, Maria Eis, Oskar Hugelmann, Albert Strouhal, Ernst Waldbrunn, Otto Weinert, Elfriede Garden, Margarete Fries, Harry Hardt, Martin King, Kurt Vittek, Monika Sigmund, Otto Wögerer, Lilly Karoly, Edith Zogelmann, Elisabeth Epp, Curt Eilers, Heinrich Ortmayer, Helmut Janatsch, Hans Frank, Stella Kadmon, Erich Maria Schill, Rita Ballner, Theodor Grieg, Franz Herterich, Renée Krystufek
Screenplay: Harald Röbbeling
Cinematography: Walter Partsch
Produced by: Savoy

Info: the page of Asphalt on iMDb; the page of Asphalt on