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WAR IN VIENNA

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by Ulrich Seidl and Michael Glawogger

grade: 8

A cynical and disillusioned perspective focuses mainly on the numerous paradoxes that come to life when different realities are shown to us one after the other. We laugh a lot, we laugh almost from beginning to end, while watching War in Vienna. Yet, on closer inspection, what we are shown is quite disturbing. At the Viennale 2022, section Österreich real.

While the dead die the living live

Vienna is the capital of Austria. The European capital with the lowest crime rate. About one and a half million inhabitants. Numerous refugees trying every day to integrate into society. Everything in Vienna is (apparently) perfectly organised. And with the image of a train on its way to the central station, the documentary War in Vienna, directed by Ulrich Seidl and Michael Glawogger in 1989 and re-presented to the audience on the occasion of the Viennale 2022, as part of the retrospective Österreich real of the Filmarchiv Austria, opens.

Everything, then, seems perfectly calm. But what is happening, meanwhile, in the rest of the world? War in Vienna shows us four days in which everything happened in the world: wars, maritime disasters, protests, accidents of all kinds. And in Vienna, at the same time, life seems to run quietly. As if nothing had happened. Ulrich Seidl and the late Michael Glawogger drew extensively from numerous archive footage mainly taken from news broadcasts around the world announcing these catastrophes. Through skilful parallel editing, these clips alternate with what was happening in Vienna in the meantime. The message comes through loud and clear.

A cynical and disenchanted perspective focuses mainly on the numerous paradoxes that come to life as different realities are shown to us one after the other. We laugh a lot, we laugh almost from beginning to end, while watching War in Vienna. Yet, on closer inspection, what we are shown is quite disturbing.

Many babies are born in hospitals every day. The nurse shows one to relatives who are impatiently waiting to meet the newborn. In the morgues, corpses are washed and prepared before funerals. And finally, in the homes of the Viennese, everything seems perfectly in order. An old woman lives in a small flat, but needs nothing else to be happy. Another woman proudly shows the rooms of her house to the camera. And immediately we recognise Ulrich Seidl’s stylistic signature and his cynical and disenchanted gaze, which has always accused Austrian society of a certain hypocrisy and a dangerous indifference to what goes on outside one’s home.

Ulrich Seidl and Michael Glawogger (here at his debut film) have, therefore, combined their styles in this sharp and always topical War in Vienna. It is interesting to consider – after many years – how certain themes have become constants within their filmography. This is the only time the directors made a film together. From then on, each would go their own way. But although it is a debut, this interesting War in Vienna can almost be considered a summa of their cinema. An eventful journey around the world that always has the much-loved and hated Vienna as its final destination.

Original title: Krieg in Wien
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl, Michael Glawogger
Country/year: Austria / 1989
Running time: 84’
Genre: documentary
Cast: Karin David-Kienzer, Dagmar Schwarz, Thomas Stolzetti
Screenplay: Michael Glawogger, Ulrich Seidl, Ortrun Bauer, Andrea Wagner, Barbara Zuber
Cinematography: Ortrun Bauer, Hans Selikovsky, Wolfgang Thaler
Produced by: Filmakademie Wien

Info: the page of War in Vienna on the website of the Viennale; the page of War in Vienna on iMDb; the page of War in Vienna on the website of Ulrich Seidl