(38 - Vienna Before the Fall)
Director: Wolfgang Glück
Production: SATEL-Fernseh-und Filmproduktionsges.m.b.H, Vienna/Almaro Film Munich; color, 35 mm, running time: 97 minutes. Released 4 September 1986 in Venice ("Venezia speciali").
Producers: Michael Wolkenstein, Boris Otto Dworak; screenplay: Wolfgang Glück, Lida Winiewicz (collaboration on dialogues), based on the novel by Friedrich Torberg, Auch das war Wien; photography: Gerhard Vandenberg; editor: Heidi Handorf; art director: Herwig Libowitzky; music arranger: Bert Grund; sound: Werner Böhm.
Cast: Tobias Engel ( Martin Hofmann ); Sunnyi Melles ( Carola Hell ); Heinz Trixner ( Toni Drechsler ); Romuald Pekny ( Sovary ); Ingrid Burkhard ( Frau Schostal ); Lukas Resetarits ( cab driver ); Lotte Ledl ( Carola's mother ).
Awards: Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film, 1986; Austrian Film Prize, 1987.
Ernst, Gustav, and Gerhard Schedl, editors, Nahaufnahmen: Zur Situation des österreichischen Kinofilms , Vienna and Zurich, 1992.
Austrian Film Commission, Austrian Films 1981–1986 and Ten Selected Films 1976–80 , Vienna, 1988.
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The Austrian director Wolfgang Glück (born 1929) created 38 at a time when it was not yet common in film or literature for Austrians to address the Nazi past. Except for Peter Turrini's six-part television series Alpensaga (1976–1980), the topic was generally avoided since Austria had been deemed the first victim of Hitler, obviating any need to discuss the issue of war guilt. In this sense the film, released in 1986, served as prelude to the widespread media coverage and the many books, articles, and international conferences that appeared in 1988, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Anschluss (the political unification of Nazi Germany and Austria).
Glück's filmscript, written with Lida Winiewiecz, is based on the novel Auch das war Wien by Friedrich Torberg (1908–1979). (Glück had made a very successful television film from Torberg's most famous novel, Der Schüler Gerber in 1981.) Torberg had emigrated to the United States during World War II and returned to become one of the most influential personalities in Austrian cultural life. A fervent anti-Communist, he joined with Hans Weigel during the Cold War to mount the infamous "Brecht Boykott." Later it was found that his magazine Forum was secretly financed by the United States. Torberg had written Auch das war Wien before he left Austria, but he decided against publishing this book, which was critical of Vienna, because he planned to return and work in Austria. His widow discovered the manuscript after his death and published it.
The film presents the political events surrounding the Anschluss in March of 1938 through the lives of Carola Hell, a popular young actress at the prestigious Theater in der Josefstadt, and Martin Hofmann, the Jewish journalist she plans to marry. When we encounter the couple in the lovely springtime weather their future is full of promise. They are determined to stay clear of politics. Yet in the climate of the time, nobody of her prominence or his religion can remain apolitical. Although Martin's journalist friend, Drechsler, calls to inform them that the Nazis plan to take over Austria soon, they concentrate on their work and their private happiness and dismiss the warnings.
As they did with many writers, artists, and film people, the Nazis try to win Carola over to their cause by showing her the benefits of cooperation. They invite her to make a film and to perform in Berlin, and, despite her misgivings, she feels she must oblige them in the interest of her career, for the Nazis control the theaters in Austria. She is treated royally in Berlin and yet knows she is constantly under surveillance. She gets a taste of Nazi power when she openly criticizes the harassment of Jews and is detained for an educational "briefing," which includes the suggestion that it is not advisable for her to have a Jewish friend.
The film shows Chancellor Schuschnigg's efforts to forestall Hitler by calling for a national referendum on the question of the Anschluss on March 13. Despite his efforts, the occupation begins on March 11. Carola, who has disclosed that she is pregnant, and Martin are attending a cabaret with friends when the news comes, and they discover the Nazis taking over the city. The film reaches its dramatic climax in scenes showing the panicked and frenetic attempts of Austrians to flee the country before the borders are closed. Glück excellently conveys the incredible rapidity of the takeover, thanks to the lengthy preparation and cooperation of Austrian National Socialists, who now no longer have to hide their affiliation. Carola and Martin head for the train station to travel to Prague, still a free city. She is allowed to board the train, but he is prevented from accompanying her. Guards haul him away and beat him. He seeks refuge with friends, but while all are sympathetic, they are too afraid to help him. Martin accepts his fate and walks along the streets until he is arrested.
1938 effectively dramatizes the events leading up to the German annexation of Austria, showing how the Nazis infiltrated the country's organizations, bribed the writers and artists, undermined the government, and intimidated the populace to prepare the way for the takeover. It also shows how the public tried to ignore the Nazi threat, and the way many Jews overlooked the increasingly anti-Semitic atmosphere and actions, until it was too late to stop the German occupation.
—Gertraud Steiner Daviau