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by Wilhelm Pellert

grade: 7.5

Jesus of Ottakring, the brilliant debut feature by WIlhelm Pellert, points the finger at a hypocritical and perbenist society, which dangerously tends to marginalise those considered ‘different’, which at all costs looks for a scapegoat to blame for everything, but which, at the same time, desperately needs a guide, someone to idolise.

A new Messiah

It is no coincidence that a feature film like Jesus of Ottakring – made in 1975 – has, over the years, become a true cult within Austrian cinema. Because, in fact, this bizarre first feature by Wilhelm Pellert, which was re-presented to the audience on the occasion of the Viennale 2020 as part of the retrospective Austrian Auteurs curated by the Filmarchiv Austria, seems to us, today, even more topical and forward-looking than ever.

Based on the play of the same name written by Wilhelm Pellert himself together with Helmut Korherr, Jesus of Ottakring tells the bizarre story of Ferdinand Novacek, who arrived in Vienna with his family as a refugee when he was very young. As an adult, he began to proclaim values such as tolerance and love for others, each time gathering a larger group of young people and also showing interest in the difficult conditions of some workers. The young man, also thanks to his long hair, will soon be nicknamed ‘Jesus of Ottakring’ by everyone. The most bizarre events will be attributed to him, and many people will come out against him.

What is the peculiarity of this? Simple: during the whole film, the audience is never given to see this mysterious Jesus. Yet, what he preaches, his actions, his words, are always heard loud and clear within the Viennese society of the time. A society, this one, apparently calm and peaceful, which sees its fulfilment in a serene and untroubled everyday life, within the suburban district of Ottakring, precisely, as well as in the famous Prater playground or at the Zentralfriedhof. But also, at the same time, a hypocritical and perbenist society, which tends dangerously to marginalise those who are considered ‘different’, which at all costs seeks a scapegoat to blame it for everything, but which, at the same time, desperately needs a guide, someone to idolise.

It is no coincidence, then, that the feature opens at the very moment when, in the courtyard of a suburban apartment block, a plaque is unveiled indicating that the so-called Jesus vof Ottakring once lived in that very building. And both the officers and those present at the ceremony are immediately ridiculed, with all their vain attempts to bring the event to a close, despite the approaching storm. Also among them is Major A.D. (played by Rudolf Prack, here in his last performance), another pillar of the whole film, and the perfect image of the conservative and racist Viennese. Some of the film’s central moments focus on him. Contrasting with him is the angelic, blond figure of his young grandson, who still seems to maintain a certain innocence.

Particularly noteworthy in Jesus of Ottakring is the musical score, which plays a significant role in the film. And while the director’s camera, moving from one scene to the next, is not afraid to take its time to devote numerous shots to the city and its single zones, we listen, from time to time, to various songs, the lyrics of which, perfectly in line with the themes dealt with, were written by Wilhelm Pellert himself, sung by Herwig Seeböck and arranged by Hans Peter Heinzl.

Let us agree, Jesus of Ottakring is not, aesthetically speaking, a perfect film. And yet, because the figure of this ‘invisible’ Jesus is so powerful, Pellert’s debut feature soon became part of the collective imagination and, even today, more than forty years after its first theatrical release, it still seems younger and more topical than ever. And even if, over the years, many films pointing the finger directly at society have been made in Austria, particularly significant is the final caption, which quotes the words of the Gospel: “His blood be upon us and on our children”.

Original title: Jesus von Ottakring
Directed by: Wilhelm Pellert
Country/year: Austria / 1975
Running time: 98’
Genre: comedy, musica, grotesque
Cast: Rudolf Prack, Hilde Sochor, Peter Hey, Emanuel Schmied, Marianne Gerzner, Dieter Hofinger, Susanne Altschul, Harald Pfeiffer, Joe Trummer, Stephan Paryla, Oskar Willner, Franz Mössmer, Christian Prokop, Rudolf Kautek, Frank Lester, Eva Petra, Michael Jäger, Wolfgang Hauss, Peter Schmutz
Screenplay: Helmut Korherr, Wilhelm Pellert
Cinematography: Dieter Wittich
Produced by: Interspot Film

Info: the page of Jesus of Ottakring on the website of the Viennale; the page of Jesus of Ottakring on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria; the page of Jesus of Ottakring on iMDb