Silhouetten is a particularly interesting and refined work within Reisch’s filmography and Austrian cinema of the 1930s. For the occasion, the director collaborated with another important artist: German director and animator Lotte Reiniger. Enthralling music, elegant dance costumes and the Opera House full of enthusiastic viewers have a magnetic effect on the audience.
An always young art
“Dance, Leni! Dance as much as you can! Make people feel how young this old Vienna is!” And ballet, in fact, was for a long time considered – not only in Austria – an almost obsolete art. What, then, is to be done so that the audience can once again appreciate it as before? This is the question faced by ballet master Lydia Samina (played by Luli Hohenberg), the protagonist of Silhouetten, the second feature film directed by the famous screenwriter Walter Reisch, made in 1936.
Lydia has a little ballet company, which, however, is not very successful and is in danger of closing down for good. Once she and her dance group arrive in Vienna for carnival, she has to face the suicide of one of her dancers – afraid of losing her job – and, once in the hotel, she is threatened by another of the girls, who wants a leading role at all costs. To escape the attack, Lydia takes refuge in a room, where she happens to meet the young and charming American architect of Austrian descent Charlie West (Fred Hennings). The two will fall in love, but when the young and talented Leni (Liesl Handl) joins the dance company, their romance is in danger of ending due to a series of misunderstandings. How will it all end?
Silhouetten is a particularly interesting and refined work within Reisch’s filmography and Austrian cinema of the 1930s. For the occasion, in fact, the director collaborated with another important artist: the German director and animator Lotte Reiniger. Already famous for the creation of detailed paper silhouettes, which, in turn, gave rise to numerous short films and to the feature film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), Lotte Reiniger created for the occasion small silhouettes that, within the story staged by Reisch, were used by Leni’s grandfather, who owned a small travelling theatre.
In order to realise this important feature film of his, therefore, Reisch thought about every detail and, starting from a simple story, managed to enrich it with a successful blend of arts, all of which, together, create a perfect harmony. Silhouetten, therefore, differs strongly from the so-called Wiener Film, costume films – mainly romantic comedies or musicals – set mainly in the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which were being produced copiously in Austria at the time. In this feature film by Reisch, in fact, drama and comedy continually meet and, at the same time, rather complex and delicate topics, such as, precisely, the theme of suicide, but also the emancipation of women, often incompatible with an ever-present patriarchy (“in my house a woman can no longer work after six o’clock in the evening”, says young Charlie West), are dealt with. Who will prevail in this continuous “struggle” between men and women?
In Silhouetten, Walter Reisch does not want to give us a definitive answer on this, but, at the same time, manages to combine all these elements in a sincere and passionate homage to the art of ballet and how it finds its home in Vienna. Enthralling music, elegant ballet costumes, the Opera House full of enthusiastic viewers and, above all, Lotte Reiniger’s sophisticated silhouettes have a magnetic effect on the audience and show us how, despite the passing of the years, art and beauty never really become obsolete. Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube resounds in the theatre at the end of the show. What better declaration of love for the beautiful Vienna?
Original title: Silhouetten
Directed by: Walter Reisch
Country/year: Austria / 1936
Running time: 105’
Genre: comedy, drama, romance, musical
Cast: Liesl Handl, Luli von Hohenberg, Annie Markart, Fred Hennings, Frauke Lauterbach, Lili Marberg, Fritz Imhoff, Ernst Arnold, Eduard Köck, Karl Skraup, Hedy Pfundmeyer, Mila Cirul, Toni Birkmayer, Willy Fränzl, Liesl Temple, Irma Eckert, Ferdinand Mayerhofer
Screenplay: Walter Reisch
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Produced by: Rex-Film