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by Ulrike Ottinger

grade: 8.5

Ulrike Ottinger’s Prater is a rollercoaster ride, a ride on its many carousels, a true visual experience. Past and present meet, ‘collide’ and merge into one.

Vienna’s heritage

Who could have ever imagined, at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that one day the imperial hunting gardens would become one of the symbols of Vienna, but also one of the most popular meeting places for citizens of all ages? Yes, because, in fact, it is now impossible to think of Vienna without the Prater, the world-famous amusement park with its Ferris wheel. Adults and children alike come to the Prater every day. You can experience adrenaline on the numerous attractions, but also relax during a walk along the Prater Hauptallee or stop for a traditional Austrian meal. At the Prater in the early 20th century, the first pavilions were equipped for film screenings (unfortunately never rebuilt after the fire of 1945) and many, many films and documentaries have been shot here over the years. Particularly noteworthy, in this regard, is the documentary Prater, made in 2007 by Ulrike Ottinger, a colourful journey between past and present, which for just under two hours is able to transport us into a magical world, to make us all feel like children again.

Prater very often leaves the word to the images. And so, a mute puppet immediately welcomes us inside the amusement park. Frightening monsters, filmed strictly from below, intimidate us, but, at the same time, intrigue us and draw us into their ‘lairs’. Then, slowly, we begin to feel part of this enchanted world, thanks also to numerous testimonies, stories from those who have lived and worked at the Prater for generations, and texts written for the occasion by Elfriede Jelinek, Elias Canetti, Josef von Sternberg.

Prater is a rollercoaster ride, a ride on its many carousels, a true visual experience. Past and present meet, ‘collide’ and merge into one. At the Schweizerhaus, a renowned restaurant founded by imperial hunters, excellent beer is served. The descendants of the ‘man without a bust’ tell the camera how their grandfather opened a series of pavilions. Creepy wax statues create the right mixture of horror and wonder and are almost reminiscent of the atmosphere of Tod Browning’s films.

Ulrike Ottinger, for her part, enhances each story told by her protagonists, but, at the same time, leaves room for images of normal everyday life, images of games, laughter, wonder. Engaging music enriches everything and on the big screen one immediately has the impression of being in these wonderful places told through pictures. Places where you can give rein to your imagination, where images, colours and sounds create a perfect harmony, skilfully rendered on screen by this important documentary by Ulrike Ottinger. There is always time to grow up. The important thing is never to forget that we have been children.

Original title: Prater
Directed by: Ulrike Ottinger
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2007
Running time: 107’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Ulrike Ottinger
Cinematography: Ulrike Ottinger
Produced by: Kurt Mayer Film, Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduktion, Westdeutscher Rundfunk

Info: the page of Prater on the website of Ulrike Ottinger; the page of Prater on iMDb; the page of Prater on the website of the Austrian Film Commission