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KNITTELFELD – A TOWN WITHOUT A HISTORY

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by Gerhard Benedikt Friedl

grade: 7.5

In Knittelfeld – A Town without a History we find a good mix of reality and fiction, emblematic of the many crimes that are committed every day in realities where order and peace seem to reign. At the Viennale 2022, section Österreich real.

Apparent tranquillity

Suburbs as the birthplace of horror. How many times have we come across such a reality? Yet in Austrian film history, it has only been a few years since the suburbs began to be seen as the scene of so many possible tragedies. Responsible for this trend have been, above all, numerous news events, but also the strong desire to present the audience much more realistic and less softened stories than was customary in the past. The documentary Knittelfeld – A Town without a History, directed by Gerhard Bendikt Friedl in 1997 and shown to the audience again at the Viennale 2022 as part of the retrospective Österreich real, organised by the Filmarchiv Austria, is an interesting example of this.

Knittelfeld, then, is a small Styrian town, where life seems to run quietly and without any particular events that could upset the normal daily routine. But will this really be the case? The director tells us the story of the Pritz family. A highly problematic family, whose members have committed serious, very serious crimes over the years. Two of the Pritz brothers killed a young soldier in front of a pub. Another of their brothers fired rifle shots through the window together with a friend of his. Their mother poisoned her husband and even their sister is guilty, together with her husband, of the death of her child.

In Knittelfeld – A Town without a History we find a good mix of reality and fiction, emblematic of the many crimes that are committed every day in realities where order and tranquillity seem to reign. The story of the Pritz family, inspired by real events, is presented to us here almost in the form of a telenovela, with each of the family members having their own terrible story. And what happens in the meantime in the city?

While Matthias Hirth’s voice tells us the facts, the camera of the director (and of cameraman Rudolf Barmettler) shows us from time to time the various areas of the city, the streets, schools, pubs, building sites and even the military airport. With a few simple tracking shots and pan shots and with a total absence of music, we see what happens every day in Knittelfeld. Ambulances, the fire station, but also simply traffic lights seem to have established a certain order in the city. Yet, the images contrast strongly with the words. Knittelfeld – A Town without a History plays mainly on this strong contrast. The contrast between apparent calm and tragedy.

Yet, in spite of a specific focus on the small town of Knittelfeld, this interesting short documentary by Friedl is in no way intended to tell us the story of a specific town. Knittelfeld – A Town without a History is a picture of what happens, has happened or can happen in many realities like Knittelfeld. Realities in which – due to the apparent tranquillity of everyday life – it is almost unthinkable that such crimes could take place. Realities in which everyone lives every day. And through a skilful minimalist approach, the message comes through loud and clear.

Original title: Knittelfeld – Stadt ohne Geschichte
Directed by: Gerhard Benedikt Friedl
Country/year: Germany, Austria / 1997
Running time: 35’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Gerhard Benedikt Friedl
Cinematography: Rudolf Barmettler
Produced by: Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München

Info: the page of Knittelfeld – A Town without History on iMDb; the page of Knittelfeld – A Town without History on the website of the sixpackfilm; the page of Knittelfeld – A Town without History on the website of the Diagonale