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DER GESTOHLENE BRIEF

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by Friedl vom Gröller

grade: 7.5

Der gestohlene Brief slowly reveals itself to be much more complex and symbolic than it might initially seem. Cinema has the task of acting as an essential messenger, but also of ensuring that old letters belonging to the past can also have their own impact on the present. At the Viennale 2023.

Words from the past

An artist who, every time, manages to surprise us, almost hypnotise us with the powerful images of her films, Friedl vom Gröller. Each of her works is almost a provocation. In each of her films, we see how cinema itself often acts as the absolute protagonist or, in one way or another, as a co-protagonist. A particularly interesting short film in this regard is Der gestohlene Brief, made in 2023 and presented as an Austrian premiere at the Viennale 2023.

In Der gestohlene Brief, therefore, vom Gröller temporarily abandons the stark black and white typical of her films to fill our eyes with the warm fiery colours that slowly surround pages and pages of handwritten letters, all containing mysterious messages. Ten years before making this short film, therefore, the director wrote no less than twenty-four letters, which, however, were never sent and which are shown to us for the first time on this very occasion.

On the ground, we see a small bowl. Around it, several dry leaves. Then, suddenly, the director’s hand appears before the camera. In her hand she has several letters, but only with difficulty can we read a few words. Could these be love letters? Perhaps, such letters were addressed to a lost or even imaginary love. In Der gestohlene Brief Friedel vom Gröller almost lets the viewer draw his own conclusions. And in seeing such letters being first torn up, then burnt, one almost feels a sense of liberation. But is this really the end of it? Absolutely not.

And indeed, towards the end of the short film, we see that one of these letters is neither torn nor burnt. What will be its fate? Will it perhaps be sent? What if, instead, the cinema itself is a means to get such a letter to its mysterious addressee? But, above all, why is such a letter referred to as ‘a stolen letter’? Der gestohlene Brief, therefore, slowly reveals itself to be much more complex and symbolic than it might initially seem. Cinema has the task of acting as the essential messenger, but also of ensuring that old letters belonging to the past can also have their own impact on the present.

A few simple shots manage in just three minutes to bring something visually magnetic to life on the movie screen. Friedl vom Gröller’s strongly minimalist, revolutionary, but also pleasantly ironic and self-ironic directorial approach did the rest. And it culminated in the note with the initials FvG written on it (in fact, the director’s own signature), which appears at the end of the short film and which has now become a constant in her works. Der gestohlene Brief is all that and more. And who knows what happened to that letter.

Original title: Der gestohlene Brief
Directed by: Friedl vom Gröller
Country/year: Austria / 2023
Running time: 3’
Genre: experimental
Screenplay: Friedl vom Gröller
Cinematography: Friedl vom Gröller
Produced by: Friedl vom Gröller

Info: the page of Der gestohlene Brief on the website of the Viennale; the page of Der gestohlene Brief on the website of the sixpackfilm