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by Käthe Kratz

grade: 6.5

Farewell is the search for an escape from reality and the landing in a ‘non-promised’ land full of happiness. A critique of the system that is at times verbose and exasperating, but which well depicts the Zeitgeist of the time. At the Viennale 2023, within the retrospective Keine Angst by the Filmarchiv Austria.

Two worlds, the same world

Presented during the Viennale 2023 as part of the retrospective Keine Angst by the Filmarchiv Austria, dedicated to Austrian cinema of the 1980s, Farewell is the shining example of the collaboration between Käthe Kratz (director) and Peter Turrini (screenplay), a long-time couple in private life as well, from which emerges a profound critique of the society of the time that, to the tune of an eloquent leckt’s mi am Oarsch (literally ‘kiss my bottom’), tells the story of two young Viennese who are unable to find a place in the world but are nevertheless willing to fight to the end.

In the Vienna of the early 1980s, full of electronic music and great – urban and social – changes taking place, Tina (Henriette Cejpek) and Gerhard (Johannes Silberschneider) meet and fall in love. And they do so in the psychiatric ward of the Penzing polyclinic, as both have attempted suicide. The urge to die was so strong in both of them that, once discharged, they will always keep in touch. The problem is clearly just around the corner, because Tina is from a good family and studies French at a religious boarding school, while Gerhard is an apprentice plumber, son of the Viennese working class: two distant worlds – but, as we shall see, not too distant – that resent this tangibility. Farewell thus tells of how the two protagonists seek a kind of alternative world, where their relationship can finally be approved. Amidst protest concerts and police evacuations, Tina and Gerhard find their coveted freedom amidst a group of squatters fighting against the system. With dramatic implications.

The reflection that arises from watching Farewell, a 1984 film that was practically impossible to find and rarely screened, is purely political and concerns what was discussed in the country at the time. The protest song quoted at the beginning of the article is a hymn to wanting to change the world when it does not seem to represent us properly. Kratz’s film thus seems incredibly topical even almost 40 years after it was made; one only has to replace No Future with Last Generation and the protest movements, accompanied in the film by the music of Sigi Maron and Konstantin Wecker, become modern-day demonstrations.

Dystopian and hovering between the waiting platform (signifying salvation) and the looming incoming train (constant danger), Farewell documents a seemingly impossible and incredibly dangerous youthful love story in which death plays a prominent role. Close to death the two protagonists will find their longed-for freedom, in a visually and musically intense final climax. By director Käthe Kratz’s own admission, this is a way of giving a voice to those who have none and who, at one point, even reject it. The theme is a topical one: the suicide rate, in fact, has risen again. And they, who have fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view – come out of this situation, will never give up, simply being content. A very intense message, the right mix of provocation and criticism that Turrini’s refined writing never spares.

Just as of rare intensity are Tina and Gerhard’s scenes, especially those that testify to the birth and consolidation of their love: from the long underwater sequence in the Baumgartner Höhe swimming pool to the proof of love on the Schottenring underground platforms. Thanks to Silberschneider’s vaguely hallucinated gaze and Cejpek’s alienated one, we realise that the two young people, even without uttering a word, love each other, and show it with great emotional energy. All this (and much more) is Farewell, the search for an escape from reality and the landing in a ‘non-promised’ land full of happiness, represented by the youth centre in Gassergasse, which is being dismantled. A critique of the system that is at times verbose and exasperating, but which well depicts the Zeitgeist of the time, critical of the public and private system that has come into being, and for this reason eager for change.

Original title: Atemnot
Directed by: Käthe Kratz
Country/year: Austria / 1984
Running time: 97’
Genre: drama, coming-of-age, musical, romance
Cast: Henriette Cejpek, Johannes Silberschneider, Hilde Berger, Hubert Kronlachner, Armin Felsberger, Walter Langer, Sigi Maron, Maria Martina, Maria Singer, Andreas Vitásek, Konstantin Wecker
Screenplay: Peter Turrini
Cinematography: Christian Berger
Produced by: Neue Studio Film

Info: the page of Farewell on iMDb; the page of Farewell on the website of the Viennale; the page of Farewell on the website of the Austrian Film Commission