Greek mythology has found an ideal adaptation in Alkeste – Die Bedeutung, Protektion zu haben, for a story of love and death set in a rugged – but extremely poetic – Vienna of the 1970s. And Euripides’ Alcestis is here staged in a never banal or predictable way, with a directorial approach that at times recalls the French Nouvelle Vague.
Myth and reality
During his extremely prolific and varied career, the Greek-born, but Austrian by adoption, filmmaker Antonis Lepeniotis distinguished himself – among young independent filmmakers who were attempting, in their own way, to break away from what had been the canons of Austrian cinema for years – for his completely innovative approach to the seventh art, drawing heavily from what had been made in the past, but at the same time creating something totally new and personal. Significant examples of this are films such as Das Manifest (1974), Stadtbahn (1966) and, in particular, Alkeste – Die Bedeutung, Protektion zu haben (Alcestis – The Importance of Being Protected), made in 1970, which was also the author’s first feature film.
On this particular occasion, then, Lepeniotis decided to take inspiration from something that, in some way, was close to him. From something that, in one way or another, recalled his origins. And so, Greek mythology found an ideal declination, for a story of love and death set in a rugged – but extremely poetic – Vienna of the 1970s. And so Euripides’ Alcestis is here staged in a never banal or predictable way, without the pretence of exaggerating, of shocking the audience at all costs, but adopting an approach and mise-en-scène that in some ways also recalls the then recent French Nouvelle Vague.
Adi (Admetus, precisely) is deeply in love with Claudia (Alcestis), the lover of his greatest enemy, who will soon die in a duel. Adi, at the same time, is constantly under the protection of Apollo, a young man from a wealthy family, who is ready to come whenever his friend is in trouble. What will be the price to be paid for his action? And, above all, how will his friend Apollo manage to protect him this time?
Two young men who have just been released from prison stroll, chatting, along the Prater Hauptallee. Antonis Lepeniotis’ camera precedes them, set slightly downwards. What does this remind us of? Impossible not to think, in this case, of Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece Breathless (1960) and, specifically, of the famous scene in which Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg stroll on the Champs Elysées. It is no coincidence that Lepeniotis, in this his Alkeste – Die Bedeutung, Protektion zu haben, wanted to take inspiration from another debut film. Just as, totally fascinated by French cinema of the time, it’s also no coincidence that he thought of François Truffaut’s now cult film Jules and Jim (1963), when we see Adi, Claudia and Apollo running happily and carefree in a park.
And yet, despite the numerous references/homages to French cinema, Alkeste – Die Bedeutung, Protektion zu haben has its own, marked personality. And it stands out above all for its fluent mise-en-scène, where elements taken directly from Greek mythology are well placed in a contemporary urban context – depicted, on the whole, with an excessively realistic manner, to the point of almost giving us the impression of a documentary approach – without ever being out of place or even artificial.
Classicism and contemporary, mythology and stark realism, love and death. All these antithetical elements coexist perfectly in this debut feature by Antonis Lepeniotis. And, at the same time, Neo-realism and Nouvelle Vague stand as ideal cues to give life to something totally new and personal. Yet, despite this, a name like Antonis Lepeniotis has not, throughout his career, received the attention he deserved. At the time, as we know, there was still not much focus in Austria on enhancing the value of domestically produced films. Especially when these films tried, in their own way, to swim against the tide. And yet, Lepeniotis will certainly have been pleased and honoured, in his time, by the fact that his Alkeste – Die Bedeutung, Protektion zu haben even impressed Henri Langlois, who, after watching it, even invited him to visit the Cinématheque. And this must have been, for the director, certainly one of his greatest satisfactions.
Original title: Alkeste – Die Bedeutung, Protektion zu haben
Directed by: Antonis Lepeniotis
Country/year: Austria / 1970
Running time: 89’
Genre: drama, surreal
Cast: Inge Altenburger, Peter Assen, Hilde Berger, Dieter Berner, Robert Dietl, Gerald Florian, Eva Heide Frick, Wolfgang Gratzol, Peter Gruber, Hellmuth Hron, Wolf Klutz-Björdahl, Hans Lazarowitsch, Kurt Conrad Loew, Heinz Marecek, Ingrid Olofson, John Ottwald, Kiki Pawlu, Friederike Pfleger, Dieter Schrage, Jolantha Wührer
Screenplay: Antonis Lepeniotis
Cinematography: Edgar Osterberger
Produced by: Edos-Film, Schubert-Film