The Viennale festival begins with a gala screening of Austrian director Jessica Hausner’s new film Amour Fou, a portrait of the German Romantic writer Heinrich von Kleist and his friend Henriette Vogel, and the steps leading to their 1811 suicide pact.
The festival also features a retrospective of John Ford films, and a tribute to the late German director Harun Farocki.
A special programme has been dedicated to Danish-American actor Viggo Mortensen, who was invited to appear as a guest at the festival but had to cancel. American actor Willem Dafoe (who stars in Abel Ferrara's film Pasolini) was also invited but declined – so the festival will lack star appearances this year. Harry Belafonte, Michael Caine and Will Ferrell have appeared at previous Viennale festivals.
However, over 75 of the 391 films have already sold out, with festival favourites from Cannes and Venice such as Deux Jours, Une Nuit with Marion Cotillard, and Clouds of Sils Maria with Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart proving especially popular.
German directors Christian Petzold (Phoenix), Thomas Heise (Städtebewohner) and Dominik Graf (Die geliebten Schwestern) will attend and introduce their films, as will American independent filmmakers Debra Granik (Stray Dog) and Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip) and the British director and screenwriter Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy and Björk: Biophilia Live).
Die Presse newspaper writes that Viennale director Hans Hurch is known for his love of “uncomfortable, political, and often marginalized stories", and that this year's programme reflects that.
Austrian cinema is dominated by its most controversial and influential director Michael Haneke, who is the most internationally successful Austrian filmmaker working today.
Other Austrian directors such as Ulrich Seidl, Markus Schleinzer, Stefan Ruzowitzky and Barbara Albert are also known for their thought-provoking and often dark and disturbing films.