HEIDENLÖCHER

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by Wolfram Paulus

grade: 8

Drawing heavily from the cinema of Robert Bresson – complete with the choice of non-professional actors and the focus on a society with dubious morality – Wolfram Paulus has made a feature film in which the wide open spaces – and, in particular, the immense snowy expanses of the Salzburg area – convey a deep sense of agoraphobia, perfectly in line with the equally strong sense of claustrophobia in the interiors.

On the mountains of Salzburg

There are realities concerning one of the most dramatic wars of recent years – World War II – that are still practically unknown to most people today. Few, for example, know about the so-called Heidenlöcher, special hiding places in the hollows of certain mountains where deserters used to take refuge in wartime. Nobody – with the exception of a very few people, usually family members of the refugees themselves – knew that the said deserters were hiding in their homes. And this, inevitably, could also be quite dangerous.

The late director Wolfram Paulus focused on these singular realities with his debut feature – Heidenlöcher, in fact – which was presented in competition at the Berlinale 1986 and was one of the first Austrian films to compete for the coveted Golden Bear.

In Heidenlöcher, then, is staged the story of the deserter Santner, who took refuge during the war in the Ellmautal, near Salzburg. No one in the village is aware of his presence, with the exception of his son Ruap, the hunter Dürlinger and his wife. At the same time, soldiers and peasants continue their period of forced cohabitation all together, while, little by little, the rumour begins to spread that there may also be a deserter nearby.

Drawing heavily on the cinema of Robert Bresson – complete with non-professional actors and a focus on a society with dubious morality – Wolfram Paulus has made a feature film in which the wide open spaces – and, in particular, the immense snowy expanses of the Salzburg region – convey a deep sense of agoraphobia, perfectly in line with the equally strong sense of claustrophobia in the interiors, whether in the taverns where locals and soldiers gather, or in the hiding places chosen by Santner from time to time.

Moreover, it is the long, very long silences that are almost the absolute protagonists in Heidenlöcher. Silences combined with a sort of incommunicability among the characters themselves, further emphasised by their different backgroundse. And all this cleverly underlines a deep sense of loneliness, the main focus of the entire feature film.

It is, therefore, the wide open spaces, together with details of utensils and objects at home and small rituals of everyday life the main focus of the camera of Wolfram Paulus, who, with the aid also of a harsh black and white, has characterised a reality very close to him. A reality with a thousand possible implications, within which the inevitable conflicts and betrayals ‘explode’ only at the end. A reality that witnesses a rather clear division between good and evil, for a wound that, even after many years, will never stop bleeding.

And Wolfram Paulus, for his part, has missed no opportunity to shout out his pain, making for a feature film as sharp as a razor blade, a true denunciation of a vile and omertous society. Just as, in his time, the great Robert Bresson, always a mentor of the talented and versatile Austrian director, did.

Original title: Heidenlöcher
Directed by: Wolfram Paulus
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 1986
Running time: 98’
Genere: drama, war
Cast: Florian Pircher, Albert Paulus, Helmut Vogel, Matthias Aichhorn, Rolf Zacher, Claus-Dieter Reents, Maria Aichhorn, Gerta Rettenwender, Johanna Madej, Franz Hafner, Doris Kreer, Hubsi Aichhorn, Darius Polanski, Piotr Firackiewicz, Hans-Jörg Unterkrainer, Walter Oczlon
Screenplay: Wolfram Paulus
Cinematography: Wolfgang Simon
Produced by: Bayerischer Rundfunk, Marwo-Film, Voiss Film

Info: the page of Heidenlöcher on iMDb; the page of Heidenlöcher on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria; the page of Heidenlöcher on the website of the Österreichisches Filminstitut