I Love Vienna (1991)
By: Kourosh Kamangir & Hooman Razavi
It was in winter 1991. Ali Mohammed (Freydoon Farokhzad), a German teacher from Iran and a devout Muslim, arrives Vienna with his younger sister Maryam and his 15-year-old son. With this trip, he fulfills a long-cherished childhood dream-to finally see the city that he thinks he knows well from the Sissi films with Romy Schneider. Mohammed made the firm decision not to visit Vienna as a tourist, but to settle here for a long time, maybe a few years, maybe forever. But when he arrived at the Südbahnhof train station, he was presented with a completely different picture than expected: dirt, alcoholized homeless people, noise and traffic chaos on the streets. Mohammed's nephew lives in Vienna. Together with a friend, the Polish asylum seeker Karol Karnovski (Arthur Gawryluk), he picks up Mohammed and his family in a rickety Renault 4 from the train station and takes him to a hotel pension near the “Praterstern”. It was 2 years after the fall of the “Iron Curtain” (Eisener Vorhang) and the location was mostly occupied by Romanian asylum seekers. Mohammed and Marianne Swoboda, the landlady of the hotel, fall in love with each other and a relationship develops between the two. However, when Mohammed notices that Marianne is actually married to the hotel's boss, Rudolf Swoboda, he breaks up with Marianne. The difficulties of obtaining a long-term residence permit in Austria also makes him tired and depressed. His overwhelmed legal adviser advises “targeted lies” in order to obtain the necessary residence permit. Mohammed begins to doubt whether Vienna is actually his dream city and he thinks about immigrating to the USA but a visa for the United States is also not so easy for Iranian citizens. In addition, his world, which is ordered by his traditional values, is beginning to break apart: his younger sister, for whom he feels like a father, falls in love with Karol. So, even although he protests loudly against this connection, Mohammed finally has to accept that Maryam wants to live with her partner even without being married. Finally, his son also gets into "bad company" and Mohammed has to pick him up from the police station. When Mohammed suffers from acute appendicitis and gets hospitalize which hardly affordable for him, the divorced Marianne steps in. In this way, the two come together again at the end of the film and try a relationship again. Whether Mohammed stays in Vienna or travels to the US remains open. In general, the film is about the clash of two different traditional cultures. Although I think that it overestimated the openness of the Austrian culture of that time. Marian, Rudolf, and other Austrian characters in the movie were somehow open-minded and it doesn’t correspond with the average level of tolerance in this society. From a formalist perspective, the exterior shots show the city of Vienna and its main landmark but in a rather claustrophobic manner. The scenes in the train station, alley, and police scenes all have marks of aerial shooting that finally lead to zoom into the characters and actions. The interior shots are abundant right from the outset and show how the life of the family and social relations are mostly happening within a very limited sphere. Interestingly, apart from the hotel scenes with erotic imageries that show the conflict of cultures, the café and bar scenes potentially show the desire of the subjects to see the real Austria despite the traditional tendencies highlighted. Additionally, Allahyari uses close-ups, medium shots, static shots and frames with crowded characters, density and darker hues to accentuate the tense family and social atmospheres. I love Vienna meditates on the question of identity, masculinity crisis, love, desire and cross-cultural bonding, fragility, and tension of family in the diasporic communities. The superb acting by late exiled Iranian actor Fereydon Farrokhzad and active camera and cinematography make this work among the best productions of Iranian diasporic films of the early 1990s. In brief, viewers who watch this film may potentially find the film to be not so relevant as the zeitgeist has changed, but the themes and issues I love Vienna touches upon are timeless and to varying degrees affect the lives and subjectivities of Iranian expatriates in Europe and North America even to this date.