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DIE PORZELLANGASSEN-BUBEN

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by Lukas Sturm, Andrea Zsutty and Helfried Carl

grade: 8

Die Porzellangassen-Buben looks like an ideal reunion, a meeting of old friends who by a strange twist of fate only became such in their eighties, after a life spent in New York and Palestine. Screened at the event dedicated to producer Eric Pleskow on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Meeting in the homeland

The main event of the evening dedicated to Eric Pleskow’s centenary, in addition to the Oscar, which has found a home in Vienna at Johannesgasse 4 a week ago, was the screening of Die Porzellangassen-Buben, , a 2012 documentary centred on a very pleasant chat between Pleskow himself and Arnold ‘Ari’ Rath, journalist and editor of the Jerusalem Post, who is also Viennese by birth.

Having met for the first time in 2009, thus relatively late, the two discovered that they had much in common, especially their home address, the Porzellangasse of the title, in the ninth district. Pleskow in fact grew up at number 56, Rath three buildings further on, at number 50, and both spent their days, among other things, playing at the Lichtensteinpark, close to their homes. All this, without ever having known each other, but only unknowingly met several times.

That’s why Die Porzellangassen-Buben looks like an ideal reunion, a meeting of old friends who by a strange twist of fate only became such in their eighties, after a life spent in New York and Palestine. The documentary, produced by Neuland Film and shot by Lukas Sturm with the collaboration of Andrea Zsutty and Helfried Carl, puts together an hour or so of footage and no less than five hours of dialogue in which the two exiles chat pleasantly, letting themselves go with memories, sometimes common like the one about the Flieger cinema (just to stay on the subject), sometimes unpleasant like the moment of their escape in two opposite directions, as Jews and therefore subject to the Nuremberg Laws.

Eric Pleskow, who was born in 1924 and landed in New York after a period in France, has become one of Hollywood’s most important producers, practically a self-made man. The same can be said about Ari Rath, born in 1925, who fled to Palestine and became a world-famous journalist, editor-in-chief and columnist for the Jerusalem Post, despite not being a native English speaker: another self-made man. Despite their differences, in Die Porzellangassen-Buben one has the feeling of witnessing the historic meeting that first brought them together, coincidentally in Vienna in 2009.

In the Bruno Kreisky Forum, the location of the 2012 film, Pleskow and Rath hold hands on a joint journey into each other’s worlds, talking, asking each other questions and reasoning about why, for both of them, Vienna and Austria in general have gone from being a homeland to a mere birthplace. ‘I have said the end, discourse closed between Austria and myself,’ Pleskow bitterly states, ‘still my brother and I speak in Hebrew and not German,’ Rath promptly replies. The absurdity that the National Socialist follies resulted in their stories are perfectly summed up in this conversation.

The thing that fascinated me most in Die Porzellangassen-Buben is the natural harmony and chemistry between the two. Knowing that they met several times – they were members of the same tennis club – without ever knowing each other, and seeing them so mutually interested, with really intense questions and moments of active listening, makes one think. Speaking amiably, laughing, playing politics without losing their very biting and sharp sense of humour, forged also perhaps because of all that we already know, gave me the impression of looking at two grandfathers who have known each other for a lifetime. Or that in Porzellangasse, between 1924 and 1938, instead of the racial laws they distributed intelligence, talent, critical sense, security and joie de vivre. Here, I choose this perspective.

Original title: Die Porzellangassen-Buben
Directed by: Lukas Sturm, Andrea Zsutty, Helfried Carl
Country/year: Austria / 2012
Running time: 52’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Lukas Sturm
Cinematography: Lukas Sturm
Produced by: Neuland Film

Info: the page of Die Porzellangassen-Buben on film.at; the page of the event Ein Oscar für das Metro on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria