• Meta

  • « | Home | »

    11th Diagonale Festival of Austrian Films – Graz 2008

    By Ron Holloway | August 19, 2008

    The 11th Diagonale Festival of Austrian Films in the university city of Graz (1-6 April 2008), the last to be programmed under a team headed by Birgit Flos, celebrated at its outset the recent Oscar by Stefan Ruzowitzky for Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters), an Austrian-German coproduction. Even though this Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film had been screened at last year’s Diagonale, the rerun reminded a packed house that the writer-director had previously been awarded the Thomas Pluch Screenplay Prize at the 2007 Diagonale.

    Further, as local critics commented, The Counterfeiters as a psychological thriller offers a different bent on the Holocaust theme. Set in the Sachsenhausen prison camp during the last years of the Second World War, the focus in the film is on a razor-sharp cerebral duel between an opposing pair of practiced counterfeiters, one a thief with principles and the other a political idealist. As evidenced in the book upon which the film is based, Adolf Burger’s The Devil’s Workshop (written by the political idealist portrayed in the film), their intellectual tug-of-war is mutually based on life-sustaining moral principles. Karl Markovics, who plays the principled thief Salomon Sorowitsch in The Counterfeiters, was on hand in Graz to receive an Honorary Actor Award.

    Two other internationally acclaimed Austrian coproductions were also audience draws. In Ulrich Seidl’s Import Export (Austria/France), an entry in the competition at last year’s Cannes film festival, the director underscores the challenge facing new states in the European Union as they deal with drugs, gambling, prostitution, gang beatings, and the like. In the “import” portion of the film a nurse and mother leaves the Ukraine for Vienna because she needs the money to support her family back home. In the “export” segment an unemployed Viennese security guard accepts a job delivering second-hand slot machines to the Ukraine. Both experience the fate of the exploited.

    In Ulrike Ottinger’s documentary Prater (Austria/Germany), programmed in the International Forum of New Cinema at last year’s Berlinale, the rise and fall of the world’s oldest amusement park in Vienna is chronicled with film footage from the golden past matched with shots and interviews from the jaded present. The film springs to life when quaint shots from the silent and early sound periods take the pulse of a fevered public at rollercoaster rides, parachute jumps, spook houses, tests of strength, dance contests, the giant Ferris Wheel, and other sensational pleasures. Indeed, for amusement park devotees, Prater is nothing short of a documentary gem.

    In the past, attendance at the Diagonale necessitated a fluent knowledge of German. This year, however, the festival opened its portals in several sections for English subtitled films from festivals in neighboring countries: Winterthur, a shorts festival in Switzerland; Dokma, a documentary event in Slovenia; and Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a festival renown for its regional competition. Among the six program tribute to Sarajevo were Özer Kiziltan’s award-winning Takva – A Man’s Fear of God (Turkey/Germany) and a Diagonale Special devoted to Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic.

    In Takva a simple man is chosen by an avaricious Sheikh to collect rent owed to the sect. Slowly, as he makes the rounds in Istanbul, his personality changes and he sinks into a despairing depression, for he cannot reconcile his innate fear of God with the ways of the world. As for the Jasmila Zbanic tribute, it opened with Grbavica, a Bosnian-Austrian-German-Hungarian coproduction awarded the Golden Bear at the 2006 Berlinale. A searing film of social conscience, Grbavica (ironically subtitled The Land of My Dreams) depicts the agony of Muslim women raped by Serb nationalists responsible for ethnic cleansing in the Balkans during the four-year siege (1992-95) of Sarajevo.

    By contrast, and in a much lighter vein, Polona Sepe’s Kamera tukaj in tudi tece (Camera Here and Running) (Slovenia), an entry from the Dokma documentary festival, chronicles the golden age of big-screen international productions in the Slovenian republic of former Yugoslavia. The legendary Peter Zobec – an assistant director for crowd scenes hired by Sam Peckinpah as well as the production manager for such prominent Yugoslav directors as Zika Pavlovic and Krsto Papic – recalls the magic and joy of those postwar years, when a small studio in the Slovenian harbor-town of Piran on the Adriatic coast was known far and wide for production efficiency.

    The highlight of the 2008 Diagonale was the archival rediscovery of Austrian director Herbert Rappoport (1908-1983), a onetime assistant to G.W. Pabst, whose filmmaking career prospered in the Soviet Union during and after the Stalinist era. Most cineastes are familiar with Rappoport’s screen adaptation (together with Adolf Minkin) of German author Friedrich Wolf’s Professor Mamlok (USSR, 1938). But not many in the Graz audience knew much about his unique brand of Soviet musicals produced at the Lenfilm Studios in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg), particularly Muzykalnaya istoriya (A Musical Story) (1940), codirected by Alexander Ivanovsky, and Cheremushkiy (Cherry Town) (1963).

    Rappoport can also be credited with introducing the film noir genre to Soviet cinema. In fact, his Dva bileta na dnevnoy seans (Two Tickets for the Afternoon Show) (USSR, 1966) and Chernye suchari (Black Zwieback) (USSR/GDR, 1971), both spy thrillers, enabled him to return to East Germany for the latter production. According to program moderators (Olaf Müller and Barbara Wurm) and Russian experts (Petr Bagrov and Alexander Rappoport, the director’s son), Herbert Rappoport’s mysterious death in 1983 has since been corrected from reported heart failure to apparent murder by strangulation.

    The Diagonale Prize for Best Feature Film was awarded to Götz Spielmann’s Revanche, a crime thriller also programmed in the Panorama at this year’s Berlinale. The story of a hardened jailbird with a soft underbelly, his misguided love for a Ukrainian prostitute in a Viennese bordello leads him to attempt a bank robbery on their behalf to seek a better life. When the heist misfires and the girlfriend dies, the tough is driven to seek revenge on the policeman who had fired the fatal shot. Running at a slow pace of two hours, with family twists along the way to add color and tension, Revanche benefits mostly from Martin Gschlacht’s tight camera work (he was also awarded at the Diagonale).

    Unfortunately overlooked for an award, Nikolaus Leytner’s Ein halbes Leben (A Half Life) (Austria/Germany) is surely the best Austrian production of the season. A Half Life features the inimitable Josef Hader, one of Austria’s and German cinema’s great actors, as a rapist murderer plagued by his conscience. Suspected by the police for having raped and killed a young girl, he is also pursued by the father of the slain girl over an agonizing 20 year period. As luck would have it, the killer survives two court trials for lack of evidence – until a DNA analysis finally opens the courtroom doors once again and prompts in turn a burden-releasing confession. When A Half Life premiered at the 2008 Diagonale, it was given an enthusiastic reception by press and public. Well deserved, too.

    Diagonale Awards

    Diagonale Main Award – Feature Film
    Revanche, dir Götz Spielmann
    Diagonale Main Award – Documentary Film
    Halbes Leben (Half Life), dir Marko Doringer
    City of Graz Award for Innovative Cinema – ex aequo
    Running Sushi, dir Mara Mattuschka
    Vertigo Rush, dir Johann Lurf

    Graz-Seckau Diocese Church Award
    livesafelyineurope, dir Emanuel Danesch
    Land Steiermark Youth Jury Award for Best New Generation Film
    Wir bitten Dich, verführe uns! (We Beg You to Seduce Us!), dir Carola Schmidt
    Special Mention
    tschuschen:power, dir Jakob M. Erwa

    Awards for Cinematography
    Feature Film
    Martin Gschlacht, Revanche, dir Götz Spielmann
    Documentary Film
    Joerg Burger, Der Weg nach Mekka (The Way to Mecca), dir Georg Misch

    Awards for Editing
    Feature Film
    Christof Schertenleib, Import Export, dir Ulrich Seidl
    Documentary Film
    Martin Hasenöhrl, drent und herent, dir Martin Hasenöhrl

    Audience Award
    Sneaker Stories, dir Katharina Weingartner

    Carl Mayer Screenplay Award
    Main Prize
    Markus Mörth, Pony
    Grant Prize
    Dariusz Krzeczek, Martina Kudlacek

    Thomas Pluch Screenplay Award
    Ernst Gossner, South Of Pico, dir Ernst Gossner
    Thomas Pluch Screenplay Grant Awards – ex aequo
    Lukas Miko, Das gefrorene Meer (The Frozen Sea), dir Lukas Miko
    Libertad Hackl, Lena Kammermeier, Bleiben will ich, wo ich nie gewesen bin (I’ll Stay Where I’ve Never Been Before), dir Libertad Hackl

    Promotional Award for Cinema Art, Ministry for Education, Art and Culture
    Peter Röhsler

    Honorary Actors Awards
    Karl Markovics
    Ursula Strauss

    – Ron Holloway

    Topics: International Reports | Comments Off on 11th Diagonale Festival of Austrian Films – Graz 2008

    Comments are closed.