Viennale: What to expect from this year’s film festival

Next week the Viennale returns for a 10-day celebration of Austrian and international cinema. Here’s what to expect from the 59th edition of the festival.

Viennale Vienna film festival
The Viennale festival is a chance to enjoy both Austrian and international film. Photo: Viennale

Autumn in Vienna is synonymous with film as the annual Viennale festival takes place at cinemas and venues across the city.

The 2021 edition will run from Thursday, October 21st to Sunday, October 31st and returns in a much-more recognizable form with the confirmation of international guests, such as French film director Mia Hansen-Love and American filmmaker Abel Ferrara.

This follows the 2020 event that took place in a limited capacity due to the pandemic.

A blog on the Viennale website states: “We consider ourselves lucky that, despite adverse conditions, we’ve been able to maintain the continuity of our event, having prepared the 59th edition of the Viennale with a lot of enthusiasm and somewhat more peace of mind.”

A Viennale screening at the Gartenbaukino. Photo: Viennale

However, Covid-19 restrictions are still in place at the festival this year and in some ways the rules are stricter than last year.

For example, at the Gartenbaukino (the Viennale’s flagship location that has been recently renovated in the centre of the city), the 2G rule will apply because the capacity is more than 500 people. This means only people that are vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed to enter. The 2G rule for events over 500 is in place in Vienna although not in the rest of Austria.

At other venues, the 2.5G rule (tested, vaccinated or recovered) will apply, but only negative PCR tests will be accepted. Negative antigen tests are no longer accepted in Vienna.

On top of the entry restrictions, a mouth and nose covering or an FFP2 mask is required for all festival-goers at all venues. 

Attendees will also be asked to provide a contact telephone number and email address when purchasing tickets so that possible Covid-19 infections can be traced.

Highlights of the festival

Around 240 films will be screened in total throughout the festival, including six feature films and 10 short films from Austria.

Most films are screened in the original version with either German or English subtitles.

English language films includes The Card Counter by Paul Schrader, French Exit by Azazel Jacobs and the Power of the Dog by Jan Campion.

The Viennale’s 2021 retrospective will be dedicated to Austrian film curator Amos Vogel who would have turned 100 this year. Amos died in 2012 and was a founding director of the New York Film Festival.

Additionally, a monograph will be dedicated to British screenwriter and director Terence Davies who designed the trailer for this years’ festival. Terence will be in attendance at the Viennale for several screenings of his films.

Films by Terence at the festival include Distant Voices, Still Lives, Benediction and The House of Mirth.

This year, the Viennale team have reinforced their commitment to accessible cinema by continuing with the “Cinema for all” motto.

There will be four screenings with audio descriptions for the visually impaired at Urania cinema, located on Uraniastrasse in the city centre. 

Audio induction loop systems are also in place at all five festival cinemas (see location details below) for those with hearing difficulties.

The full programme for the Viennale can be found here.

Viennale venues

Gartenbaukino, Parkring, next to the Stadtpark

Urania, Uraniastrasse

Stadtkino im Künstlerhaus, Akademiestrasse

Metro Kinokulturhaus, Johannesgasse

Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Augustinerstrasse

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Austria’s empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

A new movie and two TV shows are set to reignite the fascination with Austrian Empress Elisabeth, popularly known as Sissi.

Austria's empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

She was the Princess Diana of the 19th  century. An impossibly glamorous Austro-Hungarian empress whose star-crossed  love life and tragic end entranced the public.

Now a movie and two new series — including one being made for Netflix — are set to reignite the fascination with Empress Elisabeth, who was popularly known as “Sisi”.

The film, “Corsage”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday while the series, “Sisi” — which covers her early life and turbulent marriage to Emperor Franz-Joseph — is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.

READ ALSO: Austria’s ‘original influencer’: Ten weird facts about the Austrian Royal Family and Empress Sissi

It has already raised eyebrows there with its frank depiction of the young empress’ sexuality while garnering favourable reviews from critics.

The series’ Swiss-American star Dominique Devenport told AFP that part of the upsurge in interest in Sisi is a desire “to find more female narratives”.

A portrait of Princess Sissi displayed in her Imperial Apartments in Venice.(Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

She may have been one of the most famous women of the 19th century, but Devenport said Sisi’s life was “full of extremes, full of pain”.

Married to Franz-Joseph when she was just 16, Sisi chafed against the rituals and strictures of life at the stiff and stuffy Habsburg court.

Devenport said the questions she asks of herself in the series are ones many young people today can relate to: “How can I stay myself; what decisions do I make, how do I keep up with what is expected from me?”

READ ALSO: Austria’s dirndl: a dress for past and present

The rival Netflix series, “The Empress”, is still in production, with release slated for later this year.

A royal star 

Historian Martina Winkelhofer said Sisi was “one of the first very famous women in Europe”.

“You have to consider that she came into Austrian history at the beginning of mass media,” she said.

The inscription on the monument to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi” in the Volksgarten (People’s Garden) in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The advent of photography turbocharged her fame — “suddenly you had the wife of an emperor who you could really see.”

With the current thirst for stories with strong female characters, it was no surprise that Sisi’s story would be revisited, Winkelhofer argued.

Sisi was also obsessed with her own image, and her figure. In the elegant 19th century Hermes Villa on the outskirts of Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years, curator Michaela Lindinger pointed to the exercise equipment which Sisi used in an effort “to keep young really until her last day”.

READ ALSO: WW1 centenary: Austria and Hungary stand apart on ‘lost grandeur’ of the past

Vicky Krieps, the acclaimed Luxembourg-born actress who made her breakthrough opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, plays this later Sisi in “Corsage”, withdrawing from her husband and from life at court.

In Sisi’s bedroom, a gloomy statue entitled “Melancholia” is a sign of the sadness that overcame her after the suicide of her son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889.

Just under 10 years later, she herself died at the age of 60, assassinated by an Italian anarchist.

Enduring fairy tale

Traditionally, however, it has been the fairy tale aspect of Sisi’s life that has drawn attention and made sites like Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace among Austria’s most popular attractions.

Sisi has become a representation of Habsburg glamour far beyond Austria’s borders, and is a particular cult figure in China.

Picture taken on January 21, 2022 shows the original bedroom of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi”, in the exhibition in the Hermes Villa in Tiergarten in Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Indeed, Andreas Gutzeit, the showrunner of the series “Sisi”, said he got the idea to revisit the story after watching the trilogy of 1950s films in which the empress was portrayed by Vienna-born actress Romy Schneider, whose life was also a high-octane mix of glamour and tragedy.

READ ALSO: Here are over 20 things you can do in Vienna for free

Gutzeit said the RTL+ series has already been sold to several countries in eastern Europe and as far afield as Brazil.

The many different facets of the empress’ life mean that “in each period, you have your own Sisi”, insisted historian Winkelhofer.

Over the ages her image has moved from a focus on her physical beauty to her use of charm, to more modern depictions of her as a more assertive and empowered proto-feminist figure.

“You can discover a new woman in each lifetime,” Winkelhofer said.

Where to watch?

  • Sisi, a TV show, is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.
  • The Empress, a Netflix show, will stream later this year in the platform.
  • Corsage, the movie by Marie Kreutzer starring Vicky Krieps, is set to hit the cinemas this summer after its Cannes premiere.