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Review: THE TOBACCONIST [UK Jewish Film Festival 2019]

By November 12, 2019 November 14th, 2019 Blog-Manchester, Manchester Community News

The Tobacconist, Nikolaus Leytner’s film of the Booker Prize shortlisted novel by Robert Seethaler was shown to a packed audience at Cineworld Didsbury on 10th November. Elaine Bermitz reports…

The sell-out screening saw a multi-stranded film, The Tobacconist, which alternates between external and internal thoughts. It was slightly difficult to follow until I realised that the internal thoughts or dreams were filmed in grey and green, while the external scenes were in full colour.

Set in 1937, the film tells of Franz, a 17 year-old youth who has to leave his beautiful Austrian village to live and work in Otto Trynsek’s tobacconist kiosk, which sells tobacco to the high society of Vienna. Disturbed initially by loneliness, then by infatuation, he settles into managing the business for the principled Otto. He sells fine cigars to and becomes a friend of the fashionable psychologist Sigmund Freud who offers him advice on how to mend his breaking heart.

Having succeeded in connecting with the Bohemian night club dancer Anzie, he can’t bear her refusal of him and this, along with homesickness, concern him more than the increasing fascist and antisemitic incidents around him. Even as the papers Otto gets begin to read more like Nazi propaganda (the Anschluss takes place in March 1938), he is still concerned with writing down his dreams to sort out his head, as Freud has instructed him.

Otto’s shop is attacked and as Nazism pervades, he grows more and more afraid. Dreams of drowning haunt him, symbolic of the sinking of a city, as well as his awareness of a rapidly increasing sense of danger, to freedom of thought or action. His loyalty to Otto and finer feelings towards the Jewish Freud become the only acts of integrity amid overwhelming brutality. He then sees his beloved finally through eyes not blinded by passion and his attempts to stop Otto’s suffering all lead him to his final realisations.

Bruno Ganz plays Freud ably, but Johannes Krisch is excellent as the defiant Otto while Simon Morzé grows from a youth to an adult with a troubled, nuanced skill. His mother and the writhing Anzie highlight the opposite female reactions to the Nazi threat – resist and endanger yourself or submit to the deadly whim of the Nazis.

Not an easy film to absorb, but beautifully filmed and multilayered.

On the Beaches

The Tobacconist was preceded by a screening of On the Beaches, produced by UK Jewish Film Festival pioneers Michael Etherton and Judy Ironside. A charming 18-minute short, it bewitchingly has Albert Einstein explaining to two sceptical children, what it is to be stateless and a non-person because you have been deported from your country.  Hiding out on the Norfolk coast before he leaves for America, he is discovered by the two children on the run from their war traumatised father. In charming style, he debunks their ideas about him and allows them a different, a far more generous view of their father.