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by Karl Köfinger

grade: 7.5

Thinking back to Karl Köfinger’s early films, we recall how – alongside numerous static shots – he had opted mainly for totals to show the realities depicted in their entirety. Yet in Durch die Wachau, the human being himself is put in the foreground.

The sunny Wachau

The Wachau is a picturesque region of Lower Austria where immense expanses of green, mountains, hills and monuments of great historical significance are the absolute protagonists. Suffice it to say that it was in the Wachau – and specifically near Willendorf – that the famous Venus, dating back to the Palaeolithic era, was found in 1908. And while such a place has always aroused the curiosity of many tourists from all over the world, Austrian filmmaker and film pioneer Karl Köfinger could not fail to appreciate its great value. In his 1930 film Durch die Wachau (‘Through the Wachau’), he dedicated, then, an entire film to the fascination of this region.

Durch die Wachau is thus the 24th chapter in the series Im Postkraftwagen durch Österreichs Alpenwelt. This series – as well as many of Köfinger’s previous works – was made for the Austrian Post Office. And so, by travelling in a postal vehicle, the filmmaker was able, over the years, to realise the most important national documentary project to show the beauty of the country in all its forms.

And this Durch die Wachau – recently re-presented by the Filmarchiv Austria as part of the retrospective Kino auf Sommerfrische – focuses on the varied landscapes of the region, stopping, from time to time, also in the small towns, from Krems to Melk, with a focus on its famous Benedictine abbey.

Interestingly, in this film, Köfinger’s directorial approach has definitely matured. Indeed, if we think back to his earlier films – including Kurort Baden bei Wien or Wiener Neustadt, Schneeberg, Rohrbach/Gebirge – we recall how – alongside numerous fixed shots – he had mainly opted for totals to show the realities depicted in their entirety, here in Durch die Wachau the human being himself is put in the foreground. Hence, numerous close-ups and medium shots of people going about their daily business, chatting while sitting at a table or even looking amusedly at the camera from a window.

Do people make places or, on the contrary, do places make people? Karl Köfinger does not aim to give definitive answers to this question, but, at the same time, shows us how the two entities are, in fact, closely related.

Here we are, then, in 1930, between the two wars and in an Austria where – despite the constant search for peace and tranquillity – a dangerous change was already in the air. How much longer would the peace and prosperity staged by Karl Köfinger last? As we know, unfortunately not very long. And yet, perhaps at the time, it was not yet possible to foresee what would happen. And what is most striking in Durch die Wachau is the extraordinary serenity of the faces encountered, like a series of real postcards, the images of which will remain imprinted in the eyes forever and, thanks to cinema, are definitively immortal.

Original title: Durch die Wachau
Directed by: Karl Köfinger
Country/year: Austria / 1930
Running time: 7’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Karl Köfinger
Cinematography: Karl Köfinger
Produced by: Ing. Köfinger-Film

Info: the website of the Filmarchiv Austria