Superficial civic commitment is constantly placed side by side with paradoxical and sometimes even somewhat grotesque situations in Forward. And the director, for her part, aims precisely at this, without openly supporting this or that party, but drawing a faithful and universal fresco of the world of politics and the exhausting election campaigns.
Searching for lost consensus
Since 1945 – and for many, many years to follow – the SPÖ – the Austrian Social Democratic Party – has won more support in Austria than any other party. And yet, in April 1994, things partly changed: the entry of the FPÖ and the growing dissatisfaction of the population with foreigners made the party lose several points. A period, this one, which stands as a real turning point in recent Austrian history and which has been faithfully documented by Susanne Freund in her Forward (1995).
A film, this one, which shows us in detail every single aspect of the election campaign by an increasingly small group of militants operating in the Leopoldstadt district. A documentary that does not hesitate to also observe with a certain detachment and irony the many paradoxical situations that have arisen on this occasion.
Young Brigitte Ederer was recently elected District President. There is a lot of enthusiasm, as well as a desire to do something. Between retirement parties, there is always time to organise a small children’s disco. And if, with Mother’s Day approaching, it is customary to deliver bouquets of flowers door to door to every mother in the district, this can also be a good opportunity to collect individual party membership fees.
Superficial civic commitment is constantly placed side by side with paradoxical and sometimes even grotesque situations in Forward. And the director, for her part, aims precisely at this, without openly supporting this or that party, but drawing a faithful and universal fresco of the world of politics and the exhausting election campaigns.
To this end, the camera – here handled by a very young Jerzy Palacz – is as invisible as possible, with the exception of sporadic questions posed by the director herself to the people she encounters or the odd glance from passers-by. On the other hand, the spectator is completely absorbed in the pre-election atmosphere. Elections that – at least until 1994 – would prove to be the worst ever for the Social Democratic Party, despite a narrow victory.
In order to be able to govern a country, one must experience every situation first-hand. And this, then, is also the conviction of Susanne Freund, who makes an apparently amateur and strongly realistic directorial approach the greatest peculiarity of Forward. And this, undoubtedly, works. And it makes this short but precious documentary a necessary and comprehensive fresco of Austria – and specifically of Vienna – of the 1990s.
And immediately we come back to the much more recent Inland, an award-winning documentary by young filmmaker Ulli Gladik made in 2019. Here, on the contrary, a complementary reality is dealt with compared to Forward. Here, another reality is examined, that relating to the consensus achieved to date by the FPÖ, the Austrian extreme right-wing party that was just beginning to gain substantial support in the 1990s. And with an exhaustive study of contemporary society, this work by Ulli Gladik is an immediately necessary complement to Forward. Two distinct parties for two realities that, in the end, seem to have much more in common than it might initially seem. All this makes for a portrait of Austria of yesterday and today, where just the right touch of irony is a welcome added value.