MAGIC GLASS

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by Mansur Madavi

grade: 8.5

Constant, pounding sounds, especially in the first part, are the absolute protagonists in Magic Glass, Mansur Madavi’s debut film, which for certain aspects even reminds us of John Carpenter’s They Live, as well as of Jacques Tati’s Playtime. And when the protagonist finally seems to break out of that vicious circle that is the unhealthy, capitalist society, he seems to everyone to be insane, potentially dangerous to himself and others.

Magic glasses

What would happen if we could see the world as it really is? How would we be considered by people if we stopped being part of a system that has been established over and over again? The Iranian-born but Austrian-adopted filmmaker Mansur Madavi attempted, in his own way, to answer these questions. And so, in 1974, came to life Magic Glass (original title: Die glücklichen Minuten des Georg Hauser), his first film, which was re-presented to the audience on the occasion of the Viennale 2020, within the section Austrian Auteurs, curated by the Filmarchiv Austria.

A film, Magic Glass, which to date stands as a true rarity within Austrian cinema. Suffice it to say that, only a few years ago, the film was considered definitively lost and that, found almost by chance by the Filmarchiv Austria, it was subsequently restored and finally re-released to the audience. But why, then, is a feature film like this considered so important today? In what way was it a forerunner of important works that, each in its own way, have made film history? Soon said.

Georg Hauser (played by the recently passed away Walter Bannert) is a 30-year-old man who has just been hired by a company. His boss tells him at the interview that only ambitious and willing young people are able to make a career and achieve success in life. These words are the last we hear during the screening. From this moment on, a routine will begin for the protagonist, marked by the sound of the alarm clock, the clattering of typewriter keys of the numerous secretaries he supervises, and the voices from the television, once home, after the workday has ended. Then, suddenly, the unexpected happens: Georg Hauser is hit by a car. The young man is unharmed, but his glasses are broken. Having to buy new glasses, the man, the moment he puts them on, finds himself seeing the world with totally different eyes.

What does this remind us of? Impossible not to think, in this case, of John Carpenter’s masterpiece They Live, which would be made in 1988, a good fourteen years after Magic Glass was made. But also of Jacques Tati’s beautiful Playtime (1967), especially with regard to the staging of the initial scenes concerning the protagonist’s routine and the decision to exclude dialogue. And if, in many ways, this important film by Mansur Madavi has also been compared to The Seventh Continent (1989) by his countryman Michael Haneke, this is also due to a certain scene, namely when Georg Hauser, with an axe in his hand, hits his boss’s car.

Constant pounding sounds are the absolute protagonists, especially in the first part of the feature film. And yet, at the moment when the protagonist finally seems to break out of the vicious circle that is the unhealthy, capitalist society, he seems to everyone to be insane, potentially dangerous to himself and others. And this calls for immediate action. All this in a constant, successful crescendo of tension in which it is the spectator himself, similarly to what happens to the protagonist, who feels increasingly lost, who experiences a strong sense of vertigo and claustrophobia, and who feels totally annihilated. How long will one ever have to wait for a long-awaited final liberation? Or, better still, will the moment ever come when one can finally feel free?

Mansur Madavi, in his precious Magic Glass, leaves nothing to chance. And in a qualitatively excellent, surreal and experimental mise-en-scène, he has studied and calibrated everything down to the smallest detail, demonstrating a deep and clever foresight, for a final result that, nevertheless, has never received the attention it deserved. Could it be that the time to realise its undisputed value has finally come?

Original title: Die glücklichen Minuten des Georg Hauser
Directed by: Mansur Madavi
Country/year: Austria / 1974
Running time: 75’
Genre: drama, surreal
Cast: Walter Bannert, Ernst Epler, Lore Heuermann, Lili Glas, Christine Heuer, Wilhelm Herzog, Dieter Schrage
Screenplay: Mansur Madavi, Dieter Schrage, Wilhelm Diem
Cinematography: Mansur Madavi
Produced by: Cinecoop-Film

Info: the page of Magic Glass on the website of the Viennale; the page of Magic Glass on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria; the page of Magic Glass on iMDb