Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Tobacconist

The Tobacconist
Directed by Nikolaus Leytner
Released July 10, 2020 (Kino Marquee)

People are often resistant to new ideas. Challenging societal norms is met with controversy, and those in power may try to suppress notions that they see as potentially leading to rebellion and, worse, systemic change. Objectionable traits are identified and used as a way to silence dissenting voices, and minority groups are linked together so that they can more easily be targeted and ostracized. Standing your ground in the face of oppression is difficult, and those who refuse to acquiesce to beliefs they find unacceptable don’t always find themselves victorious, paying a heavy price for staunchly defending their values.

Franz Huchel (Simon Morzé) is sent by his mother to Vienna to work at a tobacco shop, learning from the tutelage of Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch), its opinionated operator. As Nazi sentiments begin to permeate Austria, Otto makes his feelings clear, setting his shop up as a place that entertains free thought and serves all customers. Franz is drawn to one of his regulars, Professor Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz), who takes an interest in the young Franz and his pursuit of a Bohemian woman, Anezka (Emma Drogunova), who has captured his attention.

This film’s title reveals that its protagonist is the not the famous father of psychoanalysis but the seventeen-year-old Franz, who reports dutifully to apprentice for a man who isn’t warm but appreciates what it means to give good service. The cigars that serve as the primary piece of the business are seen as an art to be curated, and that is the spirit of the shop, which caters to many diverse interests. As Franz learns from Otto, he also explores the meaning of his dreams, which haunt him and which Freud encourages him to write down and contemplate. He fixates on Anezka, who becomes a symbol of idealized stability that he may never be able to truly achieve, especially if he wants to advocate the same principles his two mentors – Otto and Freud – do.

Austrian actor Morzé delivers an affecting lead performance, grounding this film in a realistic setting by soaking in the sentiments of those around him while navigating his own journey towards maturity. The late Ganz, best known internationally for portraying Adolf Hitler in “Downfall,” gives Freud an endearing sensitivity, contrasted sharply by Krisch’s scene-stealing turn as a far less gentle emblem of good. Drogunova’s memorable presence ensures that all aspects of Franz’s complex experience are compelling. This film, which adapts Robert Seethaler 2012 novel, smartly and effectively portrays the delicate transition from an open society to a frightening totalitarian dystopia, a story whose lessons can be broadly applied to other places and time periods.


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