Reel Travel: Vienna
by Marla Norman, Publisher
If you’re a Movie Lover, visiting Vienna, you’ll obviously want to follow in the footsteps of “The Third Man.” You’ll also want to visit the Filmmuseum Austria (Österreichisches Filmmuseum). The collection consists of over 31,000 films, from 1893 to the present.
After taking in a Viennese classic, enjoy the Filmmuseum Bar – grab a cocktail or sample one of the many local wines on the menu.
If Vienna isn’t on your travel itinerary, you can still enjoy the Imperial City via cinema. The Viennese film library may be a bit smaller than those of other capital cities, but the collection is choice, from classic noir such as The Third Man to award winning biographies Amadeus and Sissi and box-office romances like Before Sunrise.
The Third Man (1949)
Considered one of the greatest films of all time, this British noir production is notable for its atmospheric cinematography and performances by Orson Wells and Joseph Cotten. Novelist Graham Green wrote the screenplay, perfectly capturing post-World War II Vienna.
Cotten plays Holly Martins, an alcoholic pulp writer trying to connect with his friend Harry Lime, played by Orson Wells. But, just as he’s arriving in Vienna, Martins discovers that Lime was killed in a car accident. At Lime’s funeral, Martins meets Lime’s girlfriend and an occupying British officer. From them, Martins learns of allegations of Lime’s involvement in racketeering.
“As he is drawn deeper into postwar intrigue, Martins finds layer under layer of deception, which he desperately tries to sort out. Welles’s long-delayed entrance in the film has become one of the hallmarks of modern cinematography, and it is just one of dozens of cockeyed camera angles that seem to mirror the off-kilter postwar society. Cotten and Wells give career-making performances, and the Anton Karas zither theme will haunt you.” – Anne Hurley for Amazon.
Winner of no-less-than eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Actor and Director, this engrossing story of genius, jealousy, and passion stars Tom Hulce as the gifted but childish prodigy Mozart and F. Murray Abraham as bitter rival Salieri. Brilliant musical sequences are set against the opulence of 18th-century Vienna.
Salieri secretly loathes Mozart’s crude and bratty personality, but is astounded by the beauty of his music. That’s the heart of Salieri’s torment–although he’s in a unique position to recognize and cultivate both Mozart’s talent and career, he’s also consumed with envy and insecurity in the face of such genius. That such magnificent music should come from such a vulgar little creature strikes Salieri as one of God’s cruelest jokes, and it drives him insane.
Amadeus creates peculiar and delightful contrasts between the impeccably re-created details of its lavish period setting and the jarring (but humorously refreshing and unstuffy) modern tone of its dialogue and performances – all of which serve to remind us that these were people before they became enshrined in historical and artistic legend. – Jim Emerson for Amazon.
Before Sunrise (1995)
One might argue that Vienna is the real star of this travel romance featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply – the two play a young couple who’ve met by chance on a train. After disembarking in Vienna, they spend the night walking the streets and getting to know one another.
The film received high critical praise at the time of its release and currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic Roget Ebert of the Chicago Tribune gave Before Sunrise three out of four stars and described Julie Delpy as “ravishingly beautiful.” Entertainment Weekly rated Before Sunrise #25 on their Top 25 Modern Romances list. In 2010, British newspaper The Guardian ranked the film #3 on their critics’ list of 25 best romantic films of all time.
The Piano Teacher (2001)
Winner of three top prizes at Cannes, including the Grand Jury Prize, The Piano Teacher is a lucid descent into the most feverish depths of sexual obsession. Isabelle Huppert’s Cannes and European Film Award winning performance (called “A brilliant psychological portrait” by Variety) effortlessly illuminates the darkest corners of the human psyche in one of the most courageous characterizations of her celebrated career. Huppert and her co-star (and fellow Cannes honoree) Benoit Magimel transcend mere art-house erotica as they plunge headlong into a whirlpool of twisted desire and rage.
Based on Nobel-prize winner Elfriede Jelinek’s controversial 1983 novel, The Piano Teacher tells the story of Erika (Huppert), a middle-aged classical piano instructor who is trapped between her rigid passion for music and her suffocating home life. After subtly tormenting her students at a Vienna conservatory and battling her domineering mother in an undeclared war at home, Erika seeks solitary release through nightly voyeuristic wanderings and self-inflicted masochistic experiments.
Drawn to Erika’s unrelenting perfectionism, Walter (Magimel), a vain and handsome young student, tragically mistakes her unraveling sanity for growing ardor. After an unspeakably cruel assault on another conservatory student, Erika and Walter’s perverse courtship explodes in an encounter The New Yorker declared, “may be the strangest sex scene in the history of movies.” Director Michael Haneke (Funny Games, Code Unknown) expertly infused The Piano Teacher with a disturbing, clinical intensity that side-steps both moralism and prurience. A film that charts a savage expedition into the grimmest and most tragic recesses of female sexuality without a trace of sentimentality or salaciousness, The Piano Teacher is “Altogether dazzling!…for those who like films that take big risks and get away with them” – Kevin Thomas for Los Angeles Times.
The Illusionist (2006)
This film tells the story of Eisenheim, a magician (Edward Norton) in Fin de siècle Vienna, who uses his abilities to secure the love of a woman (Jessica Biel) far above his social standing. The film also depicts a fictionalized version of the Mayerling Incident. (The film The Crown Prince, based on this historical event, is also listed here in REEL TRAVEL.) The story line begins with Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) of the Vienna Police announcing the arrest of Eisenheim during what appears to be necromancy passed off as a magic show. Later, he recounts the story of Eisenheim’s life for Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell).
The Chicago Reader praised Paul Giamatti’s performance as “subtle, expressive, and richly nuanced” while Variety wrote that Jessica Biel “is entirely stunning enough to fight to the death over.” Director of Photography Dick Pope earned an Academy Award nomination for cinematography.
The Crown Prince (2006)
The sudden death of Crown Prince Rudolf Habsburg at the Imperial hunting lodge in Mayerling still evokes mystery and conspiracy, thwarted hopes and unfulfilled love. After entering into an unhappy marriage of convenience, the young heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne begins a fateful affair with the Baroness Mary Vetsera. This mini-series was shot on location in Austria and features an illustrious cast that includes Klaus Maria Brandauer, Christian Clavier and Omar Sharif.
One of the most successful German-language films of all time, Sissi is the first installment in a trilogy of films about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Actress Romy Schneider’s role as Elisabeth is considered her acting breakthrough and her popularity in the role has fueled an enduring fascinating with Empress Elisabeth.
Here,16-year-old princess Elisabeth, ‘Sissi’, follows her mother and sister Helene to the Austrian court, where the engagement between Helene and the young emperor Franz Josef will be announced. But Franz Josef meets Sissi when she’s out fishing and falls in love with her instead.