Welcome in Vienna1986[Wohin und zurück3]Alex Corti

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(nytimes)Alex Corti's Films Explore World War II's Impact

The film's focus is Freddy (Gabriel Barylli), a young Austrian who dreams of making a new life in the mythic American West. But the other characters are equally vivid, from the assimilated photographer Popper, who acknowledges, ''Hitler took away everything but our German accent,'' to Frau Marmorek, rendered mute by concentration camp life. (Her muteness, like that of characters in ''The Painted Bird,'' ''The Testament'' and ''The Pawnbroker,'' can be seen as an extreme version of the frustration of rootless beings who have witnessed too much - and know that their tales of horror won't be believed.) ''Welcome in Vienna'' (1986) focuses on two uprooted ''Americans'' -Freddy and Adler (Nicolas Brieger), a Jewish intellectual from Berlin -who return to Austria as victors. Freddy falls in love with Claudia (Claudia Messner), a Viennese actress whose father is welcomed by the C.I.A. - despite his Nazi allegiances. And when Freddy and Adler become occupiers at the war's end, they must deal with Treschensky (Karlheinz Hackl), a clever Austrian opportunist.

''The danger with such a theme,'' said Mr. Corti, ''is that people say, 'We've had enough on this subject.' They make up their minds about the film before seeing it. I wasn't interested in 'front-page news' but in telling a story that is cinematic. And so often with this theme, the idea is better than the execution. But Georg, whose story the trilogy is based on, doesn't heap on the melodrama; rather, he adds self-irony. We don't make heroes out of the characters in 'Welcome in Vienna.' ''

One way the director avoided excessive melodrama was to limit the music to Schubert's late string quintet, used sparingly throughout all three films. Another concession he did not make was vis-a-vis color: ''I shot in black and white because that's how you think of the era; films which take place during the war, in color, often don't work,'' he maintained.

Mr. Corti (a non-Jew born in Paris in 1933 who now lives in Austria) and Mr. Troller (a Jew born in Vienna in 1921 who resides in Paris) had already collaborated on two films for television. The director described them as explorations of ''the sources of Hitler's ideas and the roots of Freud's work, especially his childhood.

''We realized we had made films on the two men who most influenced the 20th century, and they were both Austrian,'' continued the film maker in a blend of French and English. ''No other Europeans had such an influence on the world during this era.''

''Where To and Back'' grew out of a different trilogy that the television stations of Germany, Austria and Switzerland proposed: each country was to contribute a film about emigration in the 20th century. The Swiss movie became Markus Imhoof's internationally-acclaimed drama, ''The Boat Is Full,'' while the German one was ''about emigration for political reasons,'' Mr. Corti recalled. ''Georg and I wanted to deal with specifically Jewish emigration, and the result was 'God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore.' It was very successful, so they asked us to make another film about the experiences of Jewish immigrants in the U.S.''

''Santa Fe'' followed, but Mr. Corti was not content to end the tale in New York. ''I thought that the return of the immigrants would be even more interesting,'' he explained, ''as they were gone from Europe only seven years, 1938-45. They arrive in uniforms, as Americans, as victors, as liberators in their own beloved country. And they see that they are welcome in Vienna only to the extent that they have dollars, chewing gum, chocolate, etc. So we decided to make both films, and that 'Welcome in Vienna' would not be only for TV.''

The third tale was indeed released in Austrian theaters, first in 1986 just before it was presented at the Cannes Film Festival. Mr. Corti acknowledged that this depiction of anti-Semitism, convenient forgetfulness and opportunism was ''hardly a hit. But a year after Cannes, it did work in Vienna because they heard of the success in Paris.'' Indeed, ''Welcome in Vienna'' enjoyed extraordinary acclaim in France - both critically and commercially - where its theatrical run lasted 18 months.

The director said ''Welcome in Vienna'' - which won the grand prize at the 1986 Chicago Film Festival - was shown on Austrian television ''on the national holiday, before Waldheim was elected; it elicited tremendous discussion, especially among young people.''

For Mr. Corti, a leading director of cinema, theater, television and radio, the trilogy is partly an attempt to create awareness by confronting anti-Semitism. ''An anti-Semitic attitude has been a long tradition among Austrian Catholics,'' he observed. ''It was imprinted on the political platforms of the Christian People's Parties.''

Having grown up in Italy, Switzerland, England, Germany and Austria, the versatile director and actor - who is also a fully-trained farmer - does not consider himself deeply influenced by Austrian film makers. Asked if he feels a kinship with Viennese artists like Erich von Stroheim, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger, he replied, ''For my generation, all of these are American film makers.''

To the suggestion that his blend of irony and tenderness recalls the work of Jean Renoir, Mr. Corti responded, ''Absolutely, especially in 'Welcome in Vienna.' I want the viewer to develop his own point of view. The 'moral' in my films should be developed in a dialogue between the viewer and the image.''

His theater work has deep connnections to the trilogy. He recently directed ''The Races,'' the play Ferdinand Bruckner wrote in France (while exiled from Germany). ''It premiered in Zurich in 1933 with great success,'' said Mr. Corti. ''It recounts the seduction of students by Nazism and includes a Jewish family who, in 1933, doesn't think Nazis will be a problem for them.'' He is currently directing ''The Marriage'' by Elias Canetti, which he described as ''apocalyptic and difficult. It will open Aug. 13 in Salzburg, where the chic audiences will probably be ruffled.''
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