SCHATTEN UND LICHT

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by Georg Lhotsky

grade: 8

Schatten und Licht stands as a true gem within Austrian cinema, perfectly placed within a context in which numerous young filmmakers had set themselves the goal of making a completely innovative cinema, finally free of the dictates that had characterised Austrian films in the previous decades.

Children will save us

Acclaimed for many years as an actor, Georg Lhotsky, who died prematurely in 2016, also made a name for himself during his long and prolific career by directing numerous feature films, most of them intended for television distribution. And yet, among the numerous films he made, until recently Schatten und Licht (Shadow and Light) was considered definitively lost. Subsequently it was rediscovered and restored by the Filmarchiv Austria, before being re-presented to the audience on the occasion of the retrospective Austrian Auteurs.

And Schatten und Licht, for its part, stands as a true gem within Austrian cinema, perfectly placed within a context in which numerous young film-makers – including, in addition to Georg Lhotsky himself, Mansur Madavi, Antonis Lepeniotis, Angela Summereder and the Canadian John Cook – had set themselves the goal of making a completely innovative cinema, finally free of the dictates that had characterised Austrian films in the previous decades. A cinema that, drawing heavily from what had been made in the past or abroad, was intended to create something totally new, where imagination and new directorial approaches were finally given the green light.

In this context, then, Schatten und Licht depicts a singular portrait of Viennese society in the 1970s, with all its contradictions, controversial sides and different realities. A young model dies suddenly in a car accident. For some time, she had started a clandestine relationship with a well-known photographer (played by Georg Lhotsky himself). Her mother, who had never really been able to understand her, initially seems unaffected by the tragic event, but, on the contrary, gets very close to her son-in-law.

At the same time, alongside the dark and crooked adult world, the innocence, the joie de vivre and the liveliness of children almost represent a parallel and antithetical universe. A mother dreams that her son may one day become a renowned violinist. Almost a kind of contemporary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Yet, the child, for his part, does not seem at all interested in this and, instead of attending important auditions, prefers to go to the park to play with his friends and make mischief around the city. In his dreams, the adult world and an austere concert hall immediately take on ridiculous connotations.

Two opposite but coexisting worlds, then, are the pillars of Schatten und Licht. The shadow, the adult world, seems to us immediately to be full of lies and contradictions. Nobody is really blameless in it. Not even the child’s mother, who dreams of a brilliant career for her son solely to feel herself fulfilled. How can one save oneself from all this? Simple: by maintaining a clear and pure gaze towards life. And never forgetting about having been a child. Just like the young photographer who is sincerely in love with his model, but only by having fun playing with and photographing a group of children in the park can finally regain the serenity he lost after his sudden mourning. Or like a funny cemetery caretaker, who, despite being in an ‘adult’ context, always proves to be an “ally” of the youngsters.

And this powerful dualism represented by Lhotsky is rendered even more perfectly by a directorial approach that, instead of the glamorous, but also unbearably cramped atmospheres of elegant houses, prefers the sunny Viennese summer days of carefree running on a green meadow. All this in an almost fairytale-like mise-en-scène, further enhanced by dreamlike moments where the surreal and the paradox take hold pleasantly, giving rise to genuine, heartfelt laughter.

Shadows and light – just as the title itself suggests – immediately take on a strong meaning and powerful symbolism in this elegant work by Georg Lhotsky. How can the world of children, of the future adults, save us all? This, in fact, is unknown to us. Yet, at the same time, the birth of a new, much younger and more dynamic cinema, with a gaze projected all the way into the future, speaks for itself. And, even today, it still gives us lots and lots of emotions.

Original title: Schatten und Licht
Directed by: Georg Lhotsky
Country/year: Austria / 1976
Running time: 89’
Genre: drama, ensemble movie
Cast: Robert Hoffmann, Ines Byass, Georg Lhotsky, Helga Bernat, Brigitte Ratz, Raimund Winkler, Otto Schenk
Screenplay: Georg Lhotsky
Cinematography: Jiri Stibr
Produced by: Various Authors

Info: the page of Schatten und Licht on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria