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by Michael Haneke

grade: 7.5

Who was Edgar Allan? is a sophisticated detective story with a noir character in which a Venice that is often quite different from how we are used to imagining it acts as the perfect co-star. Michael Haneke, for his part, has succeeded perfectly in staging an intriguing yet twisted and highly controversial story.

Mysteries in Venice

Before Michael Haneke began to establish himself in the film world, soon becoming one of the most popular and world-famous contemporary Austrian directors, he worked for many years at the ORF, making numerous television films. Among these films is Who was Edgar Allan?, made in 1984, based on the novel of the same name by Peter Rosei and which, curiously, at the time it was aired was not a success at all, even registering the lowest ratings ever achieved in Austria. And yet, it was soon realised how this film, although very different from what Haneke would later make, is in fact an extremely sophisticated and well-made feature film, which the following year, screened in the Panorama section of the Berlinale, was very well received by both audience and critics.

In Who was Edgar Allan?, then, we witness the vicissitudes of a young German art student (played by Paulus Manker, who had already worked with Haneke several times), who, having gone to Venice to escape a boring life, lives off the inheritance left to him by his father. One day, the young man meets by chance a mysterious gentleman in his fifties (Rolf Hoppe), also German, who tells him his name is Edgar Allan (probably his father had wanted to pay homage to writer Edgar Allan Poe). Following the mysterious death of a countess, who fell from her balcony, the boy realises that Edgar Allan knew her well. But who, really, is this Edgar Allan?

For our student, therefore, a long journey between reality and imagination will begin. The frequent abuse of alcohol and drugs will contribute to his gradual loss of sanity, to the point that it will become practically impossible for him to understand who Edgar Allan really is, even though he keeps meeting him in the most unthinkable situations. All this, then, happens in Who was Edgar Allan?, a sophisticated detective story with a noir character in which a Venice often different from how we are used to imagining it acts as a perfect co-protagonist.

Michael Haneke, for his part, succeeded perfectly in staging an intriguing as well as twisted and controversial story, while also paying subtle homage to Luchino Visconti’s (and, of course, Thomas Mann’s) Death in Venice. A composed mise-en-scène devoid of useless virtuosity in which the silences and waits prevail over the words themselves thus proved to be the perfect way for the viewer to become part of the young student’s world, observing reality through his point of view and often feeling confused and disoriented just like him.

When Michael Haneke made Who was Edgar Allan?, he was already forty-two years old. His career behind the camera had already begun some time ago, but he had not yet had the freedom to make something personal. Yet, already in his early television films one could notice his extraordinary talent for staging complex and controversial stories in order to awaken the most diverse emotions in the viewer. Five years later, he would direct The Seventh Continent, officially beginning his adventure in the film world. But that, of course, is another story.

Original title: Wer war Edgar Allan?
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 1984
Running time: 83’
Genre: drama, mistery, noir
Cast: Paulus Manker, Rolf Hoppe, Guido Wieland, Renzo Martini, Walter Corradi, Roberto Agazzi, Raul Constantini, Delio Campelli, Sonia Bovo, Massimo Del Rio, Primo Senigallia, Eros De Simone, Ermanno Bullo, Gian Campi, Otello Fava
Screenplay: Hans Broczyner, Michael Haneke, Peter Rosei
Cinematography: Frank Brühne
Produced by: Neue Studio Film, ZDF, ORF

Info: the page of Who was Edgar Allan? on iMDb; the page of Who was Edgar Allan? on the website of the Austrian Film Commission