‘The Tobacconist’: Film Review | Palm Springs 2019

Veteran actor Bruno Ganz plays Sigmund Freud in this coming-of-age story set in Vienna on the eve of World War II.

A World War II-era story told with unusual sensitivity, The Tobacconist — which enjoyed its North American premiere in Palm Springs — should appeal to specialized audiences, and not simply because of its anti-Nazi theme. For one thing, it is a stunning recreation of the late 1930s in Vienna, thanks to the talents of director Nikolaus Leytner, his cinematographer and art director. The film expertly captures the tensions in the Austrian capital on the eve of Hitler’s takeover, and it also manages to be a vibrant coming-of-age story and an intriguing portrayal of Sigmund Freud, expertly portrayed by Bruno Ganz.

The film opens far from Vienna, in the beautiful lakeside community of Attersee, though the opening scene is not exactly idyllic. A spectacular lightning storm is superbly captured by the filmmakers. The scene is slightly surreal: The young hero, Franz (Simon Morze), happens upon his mother and her latest lover having passionate sex outdoors as storm clouds threaten. When her lover is struck by lightning, Franz’s mother sends Franz to Vienna to get a job with a tobacconist, who happens to be another former lover. The boy starts working as an apprentice to Otto (Johannes Krisch), a cynical but generous man who lost a leg in the First World War and is welcoming to all customers, including Communists and Jews. One of his favored patrons is the controversial sage of Vienna, Dr. Freud, who is probably as well remembered today for his love of cigars as for his pioneering works of psychoanalytic theory.

Franz eventually seeks out Freud for advice on his love life. The young man is intensely attracted to Anezka (engagingly played by Emma Drogunova), a woman who may be a prostitute but certainly has numerous lovers. The Freudian underpinnings of this romance are fairly overt; Franz is clearly attracted to a woman who reminds him of his promiscuous mother. Franz approaches the good doctor for romantic counsel. Freud is supportive but clearly has other pressing concerns, especially the rising anti-Semitism in Vienna.

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