Review by John Delia
A very arresting and alarming film, the compelling movie The Tobacconist puts you into the thick of things as the Nazis move to blanket all of Austria politically. Although allowing most all people to continue to work and run business as usual, in the late 1930â€™s the Jewish and Gypsy population were dealt a blow being stripped of their voting rights. It was the start of dark times for the two groups and this story depicts the oppression and the civil discord connected with Nazi discrimination notably in Vienna where the film takes place. – â€œSome of the information in this paragraph was obtained from Wikipediaâ€™s history of Austria.â€
Living on a quint farm in the backwoods town of Schorfling, Austria young Franz Huchel (Simon MorzÃ©) spends a lot of his days searching a nearby lake for items he finds at the bottom. Itâ€™s a dull life for him doing chores for his mother Margarete Huchel (Regina Fritsch) especially at the age of seventeen having already completed school. Soon after, Margarete finds she can give Franz the opportunity to get away from the farm and work as an apprentice with her Jewish friend Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch), who owns a tobacconist shop in Vienna.
Arriving in Vienna you can see things are starting to change for the worse with newspaper hawkers announcing the burring of the Rotunda, the awful smell of the canals at the train station, and an old man who says that these are rotten times. At the Tobacco shop however, Franz meets the famous neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz) and they become friends. Coming of age, Franz takes Freudâ€™s advice to find a girl to enjoy life with while he is young. At an outdoor festivity he meets the beautiful Anezka (Emma Drogunova), a Bohemian girl full of life, and they hit it off. But the times are starting to change with Austrian/Germans being pressured through newspapers to follow Hitlerâ€™s demonizing of the Jews and the Bohemians.
Director and co-writer Nikolaus Leytner gets a lot deeper as the film goes on showing the changes taking place in Vienna. He uses symbolism like a spider walking across the Tobacco Shopâ€™s ledger indicated the fall of capitalism. All over Austria we see flags and the red banners with Swastika emblems attached to buildings and arm bands on waiters. With a takeover by the Nazi government, they have set up headquarters in the city of Vienna. Then evil comes even closer to Franz when the Gestapo takes Otto away from his shop leaving the young man to run it. Leytner goes on to show the Nazi inhumanity to man by dehumanizing the Jews and getting locals to turn on them. Using the powers of the Gestapo he shows the growing hotbed of civil unrest against the non-Christians and the decisions Sigmund Freud will have to make to save his family.
The film has a fine cast with excellent acting all around. Standout Simon MorzÃ© keeps his character Franz with young ideas and eager to learn. His coming of age get very intimate setting off his love for Anezka while he builds a devotion to Freud who has guided him toward a healthy adulthood. When it comes to learning right from wrong, Franz must choose sides that may put him in danger for his life.
Bruno Ganz, the consummate actor with over 120 screen credits, gives an Oscar worthy performance as the man who takes the young Franz under his wing. Knowing that the storm is brewing in Austria, he tries to guide his devotee in the right direction. But he knows that it wonâ€™t be long before the country will be held hostage by the despot Adolf Hitler. Looking over Ganzâ€™s credits itâ€™s intriguing to see that he has played other larger than life characters including Adolf Hitler in the movie Downfall (2004) and The Pope in the TV movie â€œThe Vaticanâ€ (2013).
The picturesque landscapes, period piece sets, 30â€™s vehicles, trains, costumes with furs worn by the rich and special effects make the film look authentic and in some cases foreboding. The Cinematography is brilliant and brings out the beauty of the countryside, the grandeur of Vienna in contrast to the squalor of the Bohemian community. Set pieces like the post card holder, the Venus nudity magazines, dated cigar boxes, old tobacco shop window displays, a hand puppet show, Christian figurines, and much more, make the film a treasure to watch.
The Tobacconist has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains explicit sex, graphic nudity, language, smoking, and violence. The movie plays out in German with English subtitles. Look for the film on Virtual Cinema and Theaters (check your local listing for a theater near you.)
FINAL ANALYSIS: An excellent film will all elements at their best. (5 out of 5 Stars)
Additional Film Information:
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Simon MorzÃ©,Â Johannes Krisch, Karoline Eichhorn, Emma Drogunova, Elfriede Irrall
Directed and co-written by: Nikolaus Leytner
Genre: Drama, Romance, War
Language: in German with English Subtitles
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, contains sex, nudity, language, violence
Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.
Opening Date: July 10, 2020
Distributed by: Menemsha Films
Released in: Virtual Cinema and select theaters