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by Maximilian Schell
Tales from the Vienna Woods is set in the early 1930s, but tells a story that could happen today, as well as tomorrow. Two stage actors introduce the audience to the stories of the protagonists at the Belvedere Gardens. Maximilian Schell’s camera immediately shows us a man from the back as the sun sets. An image that will recur frequently throughout the feature film along with numerous totals and pan shots necessary to maintain a certain detachment.
At the mercy of one’s destiny
Acclaimed and awarded numerous prizes worldwide for his acting skills, Maximilian Schell has also had the opportunity to try his hand as a director during his long career. A task, this one, that he accomplished to perfection, even making a few remarkable feature films. Among these, the most famous is undoubtedly Tales from the Vienna Woods (Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald), made in 1979 and based on the play of the same name by Ödön von Horváth. A universal story set between the two world wars, of which several film and television adaptations had already been made.
Marianne (played by Birgit Doll) is the daughter of a toymaker (Helmut Qualtinger, who had already taken part in previous transpositions) and is about to marry Oskar (Götz Kauffmann), the owner of a butcher’s shop next door to her family’s shop. The girl, however, has never really been in love with Oskar, but rather was driven by her father to start this relationship in order to maintain good neighbourly relations. During their engagement party, however, she meets Alfred (Hanno Pöschl), a playboy dedicated to high life and horse racing, with whom she decides to live. Fate, however, seems to have other surprises for her.
Tales from the Vienna Woods is set in the early 1930s, but tells a story that could happen today, as well as tomorrow. Two stage actors introduce the audience to the stories of the protagonists at the Belvedere Gardens. Maximilian Schell’s camera soon afterwards shows a man from behind walking away at sunset. An image, this one, that will recur often within the feature film along with numerous totals and pan shots necessary to maintain a certain detachment from the staged events. Marianne’s story is the story of many other women sent away from their families just for having chosen – or attempted – to be happy. Poverty, suburban life, the need to do every possible job in order to bring up one’s children, but also a bigoted and hypocritical society are the pillars of this important feature by Schell, who, for his part, seems to have fully captured the very essence of Horváth’s drama.
No one is really guilty or innocent in Tales from the Vienna Woods. And even those who are entirely innocent do not seem destined to find their place in the world. Yet Maximilian Schell (and Horváth before him) immediately seems incredibly close (but distant enough) to his characters. Each of them is, in one way or another, a victim of society, of a still too closed mentality, of a nation greatly impoverished by the war and preparing for a second, dramatic conflict. The characters move through the streets of the city, inside the clubs and through the woods of the Wienerwald almost like ghosts. The camera knows each of them perfectly. Every shot is well thought out, pain pervades almost every single scene and it almost seems like a silent scream echoing through the woods near Vienna. This precious Tales from the Vienna Woods thus proves to be a timeless feature film, a true source of pride for the great Maximilian Schell.
Original title: Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald
Directed by: Maximilian Schell
Country/year: Germany, Austria / 1979
Running time: 90’
Cast: Birgit Doll, Hanno Pöschl, Helmut Qualtinger, Jane Tilden, Adrienne Gessner, Götz Kauffmann, André Heller, Norbert Schiller, Eric Pohlmann, Robert Meyer, Martha Wallner, Walter Schmidinger, Elisabeth Epp, Lil Dagover, Vadim Glowna, Vera Borek, Gerry Kronberger, Maria Engelstorfer, Heinrich Starhemberg, Manuela Dutter, Sissy Weiner
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, Maximilian Schell
Cinematography: Klaus König
Produced by: Arabella, Bayerisher Rundfunk, Franz Seitz Filmproduktion