The View From Here

Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed and the art of great baking - more from this year's Vienna Film Festival

Michael Bonner

Here's Stephen Dalton's final report from this year's Vienna Film Festival...

Ah, Vienna. Welcome to Uncut’s final dispatch from this year’s extended Viennale, which finally closed on Friday with Vic Chesnutt howling grainy, ragged, alt-folk Americana to a packed house in the Austrian capital’s deluxe Gartenbau cinema. A splendidly soulful finale to Europe’s most elegant film festival.

"The night before, Chesnutt and his band played the same venue alongside film-maker Jem Cohen. In a bespoke sound-and-vision collaboration, Cohen drew parallels between Austria’s declining Hapsburg monarchy of a century ago and the imperial USA of today. A fanciful conceit and an uneven show, but Chesnutt’s ghostly, half-screamed version of Johan Strauss’ "Radetsky March" was remarkable, like Hendrix torching "The Star Spangled Banner".

There was plenty more music at the Viennale, on and off screen. The concert film of Lou Reed’s recent Berlin tour, directed by bad-boy artist turned filmmaker Julian Schnabel, is a fairly basic rock-doc which finds the old proto-punk buzzard on grand form. Looking ever more like Sydney Pollack with each passing year, a grizzled Reed duets with Antony Hegarty and augments his cult 1973 album with a smattering of Velvets tunes.

Uncut also enjoyed Reclaim Your Brain, the latest revved-up black comedy from Austrian writer-director Hans Weingartner, whose previous film was The Edukators. This is the tale of a coke-snorting, self-loathing TV executive who rethinks his life following a drug-fuelled car crash, fighting back against the mindless trash on which he built his career. The after-screening party was a blast too, held in Vienna’s Planetarium beneath the iconic Prater big wheel, universally famous from The Third Man.

A qualified thumbs-up for Joshua, creepy thriller about a wealthy New York couple and their sinister, emotionally blank son. Director George Ratliff clearly pays homage to Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, although the ending feels fudged and illogical.

Also fun is Reginald Harkema’s Canadian indie Monkey Warfare, about two former 1960s radicals who become involved with a fiery young eco-warrior. Any romantic comedy that ends with an instruction video for making Molotov cocktails has got to be worth a look.

Documentaries were strongly represented at the Viennale too. One of the best was Laura Dunn’s The Unforeseen, a kind of small-scale An Inconvenient Truth about the rapid urban development of Austin, Texas and its effect on the local environment. Which may sound dry and worthy but this is actually a beautifully composed mix of human drama and political intrigue. Terrence Malick and Robert Redford co-produced the film, which features music by Sigur Ros.

Another gripping documentary was Crossing The Line by the young British director Daniel Gordon. Narrated by Christian Slater, this is the amazing true story of four American GIs who defected to Communist North Korea in the 1960s and ended up acting in trashy political propaganda movies. Half tragedy, half farce.

But the most haunting and unusual film Uncut saw at this year’s Viennale is an uncategorisable piece of celluloid polemic written and directed by Guy Debord, the French academic rebel whose theories and slogans helped inspire the 1968 Paris riots, the Sex Pistols and Factory Records.

Made in 1978, In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni is a bracingly sour diatribe against consumer culture, celebrity radicals and cinema itself. It is maddeningly arrogant, occasionally brilliant, and very French. Debord committed suicide in 1994, making him the Kurt Cobain of punk intellectuals. Well, almost.

That’s the great thing about the Viennale. You just don’t get this mix of great music, achingly pretentious cinema and delicious homemade cakes at any other film festival. Shame they only hold it once a year.

STEPHEN DALTON


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