Review: ‘The Devil’s Bath,’ starring Anja Plaschg, Maria Hofstätter and David Scheid

July 10, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anja Plaschg and David Scheid in “The Devil’s Bath” (Photo courtesy of Shudder)

“The Devil’s Bath”

Directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz

German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Austria, in 1750, the horror film “The Devil’s Bath” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young newlywed becomes mentally ill in a conservative and judgmental religious community.  

Culture Audience: “The Devil’s Bath” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s directors and horror films with religious themes.

Anja Plaschg in “The Devil’s Bath” (Photo courtesy of Shudder)

“The Devil’s Bath” is not easy to watch for people who expect horror movies to have quick pacing and obvious jump scares. This “slow burn” film, set in 1750 Austria, shows the terror of untreated mental illness in a strict religious community. It’s worth watching until the very end to understand the true impact of the story.

Written and directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, “The Devil’s Bath” is based on historical research by Kathy Stuart. The movie had its world premiere at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival and its U.S. premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. “The Devil’s Bath” swept the 2024 Austrian Film Awards, winning seven prizes: Best Feature Film; Best Actress (for Anja Plaschg); Best Supporting Actress (for Maria Hofstätter); Best Film Editing; Best Production Design; Best Score; and Best Makeup.

The movie (which takes place in an unnamed Austrian village in 1750) begins with a terrifying scene of a woman named Ewa Schikin (played by Natalya Baranova) is walking through a wooded area with a baby (played by Frieda Seidl) until she reaches a cliff with a waterfall. Ewa then throws the baby over the waterfall. After committing this murder, she makes the sign of the cross on herself, calmly walks to a house, knocks on the door, and says to the unseen person opening the door: “I committed a crime.” Was is then shown beheaded, with her head on the ground. An unseen person cuts off one of her fingers.

And why did she commit this murder? That question is answered toward the end of the movie. In the meantime, a young couple named Agnes (played by Plaschg) and Wolf (played by David Scheid) are shown getting married. At the wedding reception, the guests play a game to behead a chicken while blindfolded.

Agnes and Wolf are living in a small shack-like house, near the house of Wolf’s mother Gänglin (played by Hofstätter), who has a close relationship with Wolf. Before Wolf and Agnes got married, the couple lived with Gänglin. Agnes liked living there and expresses disappointment to Wolf that the couple will now be living in this much smaller house. Wolf tells Agnes that he will soon inherit his mother’s farm, which is another way of saying he doesn’t expect Gänglin to live much longer.

This village community is very religious. Every time a clock chimes in the village, several of the residents make the sign of the cross. Women are expected to be wives and mothers. Young and healthy women are expected to out with any physical work that the men do.

Many of the villagers make their living by fishing for catfish. However, later in the movie, it’s shown that the village is experiencing a food shortage. Loaves and bread are rationed. This rationing leads to some tense moments where people have disputes about how much bread they deserve to get.

One day, Agnes is walking through the woods and looking for Wolf when she sees a drawing on a tree. The drawing depicts Ewa throwing a baby over a waterfall and later being beheaded while she was in prison. She also sees that Ewa’s beheaded body on display with Ewa’s head nearby in a small cage. It’s later revealed that Agnes now has the finger of Ewa that was taken from Ewa’s body.

Another death soon happens in the village: A young man named Lenz (played by Lorenz Tröbinger) has committed suicide by hanging. At Lenz’s funeral, a priest gives a sermon has this to say about Lenz’s suicide: “What he did is worse than murder.”

Agnes wants to become a mother but gets frustrated that she hasn’t gotten pregnant. She falls into a deep depression where she refuses to get out of bed. Agnes also overhears her mother-in-law Gänglin tells Wolf: “You should’ve married a local girl … someone who’s a better worker and can get pregnant.”

The movie’s title refers to 18th century Austrian vernacular that described depression as being trapped in “the devil’s bath.” Because psychology wasn’t developed as a science until the late 1870s, religion in Agnes’ 1750s community is used as an explanation for mental illness. In many of today’s communities, religion instead of science is still used as a “cure” or treatment for mental illness and other psychological issues.

“The Devil’s Bath” shows Agnes’ further mental deterioration as she continues to isolate herself. Some extreme things happen that are meant to be shocking but also demonstrate what can happen when desperate people do certain things when they feel trapped and take what they think is the best option. Religious oppression is inescapable in this story.

There are some haunting images scattered throughout the movie. For example, there’s a scene showing decapitated human arms floating in a barrel filled with water and catfish. Another is a scene where moths come out of Agnes’ mouth.

Some of the most squirm-worthy imagex are how the “treatments” that Agnes gets from Wolf in attempts to “cure” her of her depression. Leeches are put on Agnes to “let the melancholy out.” Wolf also uses a needle to thread a dangling string horizontally across the back of her neck, where Agnes tugs the string back and forth. It seems like a very crude and misguided way of treating nerve pinpoints, like a warped version of acupuncture.

“The Devil’s Bath” succeeds in its intention to depict a dark and claustrophobic experience of someone’s mental illness gradually getting worse and being stuck in a community that equates mental illness with demon possession. Religion is used with rigid harshness to punish those who are mentally ill.

As the troubled Agnes, Plaschg gives a complex performance that is both harrowing and heartbreaking. “The Devil’s Bath” deliberately takes its time to reveal certain deadly motives. The truth has nothing to do with devil possession and everything to do real-life religious fears that human beings place on each other.

Shudder released “The Devil’s Bath” in select U.S. cinemas on June 21, 2024. Shudder premiered the movie on June 28, 2024.

Review: ‘Corsage,’ starring Vicky Krieps, Florian Teichtmeister, Katharina Lorenz, Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun, Manuel Rubey and Finnegan Oldfield

May 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Vicky Krieps in “Corsage” (Photo by Felix Vratny/IFC Films)

“Corsage”

Directed by Marie Kreutzer

Culture Representation: Taking place in Austria, Hungary, England and Germany, in 1877 and 1878, the dramatic film “Corsage” (based on the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria) features an all-white group of people representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: As she nears her 40th birthday, Empress Elisabeth feels neglected by a philandering husband and tries to rebel against a repressive environment that dictates her physical appearance, what she wears, and how she raises her children. 

Culture Audience: “Corsage” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of history-based biopics but viewers should be prepared to see a story that is more downbeat than uplifting.

Vicky Krieps in “Corsage” (Photo by Robert M. Brandstaetter/IFC Films)

“Corsage” is gorgeously filmed and woefully depressing with glimmers of playful sarcasm about royal culture. Vicky Krieps gives a memorable performance as Empress Elisabeth of Austria, but this drama won’t appeal to anyone looking for a fun-filled story. “Corsage” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where Krieps won a Best Performance award in the festival’s Un Certain Regard competition. “Corsage” also screened at other film festivals in 2022, including the New York Film Festival.

Written and directed by Marie Kreutzer, “Corsage” takes place in 1877 and 1878, mostly in the Austrian city of Vienna and the Hungarian city of Budapest. Empress Elisabeth, nicknamed Sissi, was also queen of Hungary. The movie, which changes some real-life facts, gives an up-close and sometimes disturbing personal look at the life Elisabeth, who seems to be living a charmed life in the public eye. In private, things are quite different for the empress, who is fretting about soon turning 40, her physical appearance, and her crumbling marriage.

Elisabeth says in a voiceover: “From the age of 40, a person begins to disperse and fade.” (Keep in mind, this is during an era when the average life expectancy was much lower than it is today.) From the first 10 minutes of the movie, it’s made clear that Elisabeth is deeply troubled and has self-esteem issues.

One of the things that she does on a regular basis (as shown in an early scene in the movie) is hold her breath underwater in a bathtub for as long as possible. The first time the movie shows her engaging in this dangerous stunt, she’s held her breath underwater for 40 seconds. She’s clearly not doing this for daredevil fun. It’s an obvious cry for help, because her life is making her miserable.

Elisabeth’s husband Franz Joseph I of Austria (played by Florian Teichtmeister) is inattentive and cold toward her. He seems bored with their marriage. Franz Joseph (who wears a fake beard and a hairpiece) won’t even let Elisabeth eat dinner with him. And when Elisabeth tries to be sexually intimate with Franz Joseph, he’s not interested. Later, Elisabeth sees Franz Joseph being affectionate with another woman. It just confirms what she probably knew already: Franz Joseph has been unfaithful to her.

Elisabeth and Franz Joseph have a daughter together named Valerie (played by Rosa Hajjaj), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, and a son named Rudolph (played by Aaron Friesz), who is in his early 20s. Franz Joseph and Elisabeth had another daughter named Sophie, who died years ago and would have been 22 years old in 1847. As a couple, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph do not talk about Sophie, but it’s implied that Sophie’s death has taken a toll on their marriage. In real life, Sophie died in a fire in 1897, which was 20 years after the story in this movie takes place.

Elisabeth feels so neglected, when she’s in public, she pretends to faint, just so she can get the type of attention that a royal woman would get when she faints. She does this phony fainting after getting out of a carriage during a visit to King Ludwig II of Bavaria (played by Manuel Rubey). Later, she tells King Ludwig II in a private conversation that her fainting spell was all an act. And she shows him how she does it.

One of Elisabeth’s concerns is how she is covered by the tabloid media. There have been reports that she’s been trying to lose weight. These reports are true. “Corsage” has several scenes where Elisabeth’s weight and diet are obsessively monitored by Elisabeth and many of the people around her. Observant viewers will notice that not much has changed with today’s tabloid media outlets, which give obsessive coverage to the physical appearance (including any weight loss or weight gain) of young and famous royal women.

In her spare time, Elisabeth does fencing and horse-riding activities. The movie shows how Elisabeth impulsively orders Valerie to ride horses with her in the early-morning hours. As a result, Valerie gets sick. Franz Joseph blames Elisabeth for Valerie’s illness, and it causes further strain in their marriage. Franz Joseph wants to make Elisabeth feel like she’s an unfit mother.

Elisabeth’s closest confidante is Ida Ferenczy (played by Jeanne Werner), a Hungarian lady-in-waiting for Elisabeth. Elisabeth is also close with another lady-in-waiting Marie Festetics (played by Katharina Lorenz), who keeps meticulous diaries of what her royal employer does. Also in Elisabeth’s inner circle is her hair stylist Fanny Feifalik (played by Alma Hasun), who is in for a shock after Elisabeth cuts off her own long hair during an emotional fit. It says a lot about Elisabeth and that her closest friends were also her servants.

Elisabeth also has some male friends, one of whom becomes her love interest. She and a younger man named Bay Middleton (played by Colin Morgan) have a mutual attraction. Elisabeth’s son Rudolph expresses concern to her that people are gossiping about how much time she spends alone with Bay. Elisabeth also strikes up a friendship with French cinematographer Louis Le Prince (played by Finnegan Oldfield), who makes short films with her. (In real life, Le Prince is considered the “godfather” of cinematography.)

“Corsage” has a very revisionist take on the real Elisabeth’s life, including how she died. The movie portrays her as possibly manic depressive but with a mischievous streak. She likes to flip her middle finger or stick her tongue out at people when she’s displeased about something. And in an era where it was considered not very ladylike to smoke cigarettes, Elisabeth was a chronic smoker.

Under the astute direction of Kreutzer, “Corsage” delivers everything that viewers might expect of a drama about European royalty: sumptuous costumes, luxurious production design, and elite characters talking as if they’re always breathing rarefied air. However, this admittedly stuffy movie can just as easily be a turnoff to viewers who won’t feel any emotional connection to these characters at all. Krieps gives a compelling performance, but Elisabeth’s self-destructive tendencies becomes a bit draining to watch.

One of the movie’s highlights is the musical score by Camille. It’s haunting and enchanting in all the right ways. “Corsage” is a cautionary tale told in an “all that glitters is not gold” manner. It’s a story that is about a specific royal woman, but it can apply to anyone who is living a restrictive and unhappy existence, even if that life might look privileged and wonderful on the outside.

IFC Films released “Corsage” in select U.S. cinemas on December 23, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on February 7, 2023.

Review: ‘Navalny,’ starring Alexei Navalny

April 10, 2022

by Carla Hay

Alexei Navalny in “Navalny” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Navalny”

Directed by Daniel Roher

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2018 to 2021, in Russia, Germany and Austria, the documentary film “Navalny” features an all-white group of political workers, journalists, investigators and family members who are connected in some way to Russian activist/politician Alexei Navalny.

Culture Clash: Navalny, who has been an outspoken critic/opponent of Russian president Valdimir Putin, launches an investigation to find out who poisoned Navalny in 2020, and he returns from exile to Russia, knowing that he is certain to be imprisoned. 

Culture Audience: “Navalny” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries about international politics, corruption and charismatic public figures.

Alexei Navalny and Maria Pevchikh in “Navalny” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Although the story of Russian political activist Alexei Navalny has been widely reported in the news, the documentary “Navalny” is a wild and intriguing look at what went on behind the scenes when he tried to find out who poisoned him in 2020. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Daniel Rohrer, “Navalny” (which was filmed from 2018 to 2021) gives an up-close-and-personal view of Navalny and people in his inner circle, through interviews and other candid footage. It’s not only an enthralling story of an aspiring Russian politician but it’s also a gripping exposé of a Russian government’s response to outspoken critics. “Navalny” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Documentary Audience Award and the Festival Favorite Award.

Navalny (who founded the Russian-based group Anti-Corruption Foundation) has no shortage of passion for the causes that he believes in, but he also has no shortage of ego. There are moments when he acts like he’s a rock star of Russian politics. While the Vladimir Putin-led Russian government portrays Navalny as a traitorous villain, and others see Navalny as a heroic martyr, what emerges in this documentary is a portrait of someone is who neither as dastardly nor as noble as some of the labels that have been thrust upon him. He comes across as shrewd, charismatic and hungry for power so that he can carry out what he says is his agenda: bringing true democracy and more equality to the people of Russia, especially the underprivileged.

These platitudes are often given by people who want to be in political leadership roles. But Navalny—an attorney who has never held an elected political office in the Russian federal government—claims that he really is interested in politics for all the right reasons. At the time this documentary was filmed, he was the leader of the Russia of the Future party. Navalny’s past attempts to run for various political offices have been interrupted by his numerous arrests. The documentary briefly mentions the controversy of his past association with anti-immigrant, white Russian national groups, whom Navalny now denounces. He says his past alignment with these bigoted groups was to open a dialogue with them.

As a political opponent to Russian president Putin, Navalny became very popular, as evidenced by his ability to draw huge crowds and by gaining millions of followers on social media. But a plane flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20, 2020, changed all of that momentum, when Navalny was poisoned with Novichok and nearly died while on that plane, which made an emergency landing in Omsk so he could get medical treatment. An investigation determined that Navalny had been poisoned in Novosibirsk, Russia, before he boarded the plane.

In the documentary, Navalny says that before this attempted murder happened to him, he thought that the more famous he became, the safer he would be from any dangerous attack because it would be made more public. “I was wrong,” he deadpans in the movie. In the beginning of the documentary, director Roher can be heard asking Navalny, “If you were killed, what message would you like to leave behind for the Russian people?” Navalny replies, “Oh, come on, Daniel. No way. It’s like a movie for the case of my death. Let it be movie No. 2. Let’s make a thriller out of this movie.”

Indeed, this documentary has many twists and turns into Navalny’s personal investigation into who poisoned him. This attempted murder was a crime that he always suspected was ordered by Putin. What was revealed in this investigation has already been reported, but seeing it unfold in this documentary is nothing short of fascinating.

Along the way, various people are featured in the documentary who are close to Navalny, including Navalny’s loyal wife Yulia Navalnaya and daughter Dasha Navalnaya, who was in her late teens at the time this documentary was filmed. Dasha comments on the poisoning of her father: “It was surreal. It was like [something in] a book.”

Later in the documentary, Dasha says of the burden that her father’s notoriety has placed on the family: “Since I was 13 years old, I’ve thought about what I would do if my dad was killed.” The movie also shows Yulia’s successful efforts to get her husband out of the hospital where he was taken after being poisoned, because the hospital had “more police and government agents than doctors.” He was safely transferred to a hospital in Germany.

“Navalny” gives an insightful look at the employees in Alexei Navalny’s trusted inner circle. Press secretary Kira Yarmysh is often the voice of reason among some of the chaos. Chief of staff Leonid Volkov is the steadfast right-hand man who carries out the leader’s commands but also has to make split-second decisions on his own. Maria Pevchikh, the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s chief investigator, is fiercely protective of her boss and sometimes combative. During the investigation, Pevchikh has to compromise and reluctantly agrees not share certain information with Alexei Navalny, so as not to taint his bias as a victim.

Also crucial to the investigation is a group based in Vienna, Austria, called Bellingcat, led by chief investigator Christo Grozev, who calls Bellingcat a bunch of “data nerds.” It was through Bellingcat’s sleuthing using technology (and some good old-fashioned phone calls) that essential clues were uncovered. The documentary also includes a few journalists (such as CNN’s Tim Lister and Der Spiegel’s Fidelius Schmid) who also investigated the poisoning.

“Navalny” is essential viewing for anyone interested in international politics. Viewers who see this movie can expect to go through a rollercoaster of emotions. And although the investigation does yield answers, “Navalny” is the type of documentary that concludes with a very “to be continued” tone, because events in Alexei Navalny’s life and in Russian politics are still making history.

Warner Bros. Pictures and Fathom Events will release “Navalny” in U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement on April 11 and April 12, 2022. CNN and CNN+ will premiere “Navalny” on April 24, 2022. HBO Max will premiere the movie on May 26, 2022.

UPDATE: “Navalny” will be re-released in select U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement, from February 24 to March 2, 2023.

February 16, 2024 UPDATE: Alexei Navalny died in a Russian prison on February 16, 2024. He was 47. Russian officials claim that he died after losing consciousness from feeling sick. Several of Nalvany’s loved ones and associates have gone on record to say that they think he was murdered.

Review: ‘The Tobacconist,’ starring Simon Morzé, Bruno Ganz, Johannes Krisch and Emma Drogunova

July 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Simon Morzé and Bruno Ganz in “The Tobacconist” (Photo by Petro Domenigg/Menemsha Films)

“The Tobacconist”

Directed by Nikolaus Leytner

German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Nazi-occupied Austria in the late 1930s, the drama “The Tobacconist” has an all-white cast representing the middle-class and working class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old boy moves from rural Austria to the big city of Vienna to work at a tobacco shop, whose owner refuses to live by Nazi ideals.

Culture Audience: “The Tobacconist” will appeal to people who like European arthouse coming-of-age dramas that have themes of political oppression and social justice.

Johannes Krisch, Rainer Wöss and Sabine Herget in “The Tobacconist” (Photo by Petro Domenigg/Menemsha Films)

Based on Robert Seethaler’s 2012 best-selling novel, the dramatic film “The Tobacconist” is an effective coming-of-age story that shows how a 17-year-old boy learns about some of life’s harsh realities while working at a tobacco shop and befriending Sigmund Freud in Nazi-occupied Vienna. Under the artful direction of Nikolaus Leytner (who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Klaus Richter), “The Tobacconist” is a worthy cinematic retelling of this poignant story that will have an emotional impact on viewers.

“The Tobacconist,” which takes place in Austria in 1937 and 1938, begins with a rainstorm that changes the lives of 17-year-old Franz Huchel (played by Simon Morzé) and his single mother Margarethe (Regina Fritsch), nicknamed Gretl, who both live in the rural town of Salzkammergut of Austria. Franz seems to be terrified of being outside during a storm, so he runs home and jumps into bed to hide underneath the sheets as the storm begins. Meanwhile, Margarethe is having sex outside in the woods with her landlord Preininger Lois (played by Fritz Egger), who impulsively decides to swim in a nearby lake when they’re done. (Franz’s father is not seen or mentioned in the story.)

Preininger’s impromptu swim in the lake during the storm turns out to be a fatal mistake, since he is struck by lightning and immediately drowns. His death leaves Magarethe, who works as a maid, in a precarious financial situation for the house that she was renting from Preininger. It’s implied that she had a consensual “arrangement” with Preininger where he would give her a discount on the rent, in exchange for her being a tenant with “sexual benefits.”

But with Preininger now dead, Margarethe can no longer afford the rent, so she decides to send Franz to live in the capital city of Vienna and work for the owner of a tobacco shop named Otto Trsnyek (played by Johannes Krisch), who is an acquaintance of Margarethe. The plan is for Franz to send some of his earnings to his mother to help her out financially and he’ll communicate with her by written correspondence, since she cannot afford a telephone. Franz will live rent-free in the back room of the tobacco shop, in exchange for protecting the shop when it’s closed.

Franz is very sheltered, so moving to a city like Vienna is big culture shock for him. He’s so reluctant to leave behind the only life that he knows, that when the day comes for him to board a train to Vienna, he hides from his mother by submerging himself in a barrel full of water. Drowning and being submerged in water are constant visual themes in the movie. Franz is underwater in many of his nightmares, all of which are filmed in a very hypnotic, artsy way.

Franz also has an active imagination when he’s awake. One of the recurring visual tricks of “The Tobacconist” is showing certain things happen in a scene, only for viewers to find out that what happened was really in Franz’s head. What happened in reality is shown immediately afterward. Franz’s fantasies usually involve Franz being more confident and assertive that he really is. This is especially true when Franz has to confront his fears and insecurities in angry conflicts or matters of the heart.

Otto, who is in his 50s, is a no-nonsense boss, but he also has a strong sense of fairness and compassion for others. Otto (who is not married and does not mention having any children) also has a certain loneliness that he expresses when he tells Franz that the tobacco products in his shop are Otto’s “acquaintances.” A veteran of World War I, Otto is missing one leg, which he presumably lost in the war, but that doesn’t hinder his ability to get around, since he uses crutches.

Franz is an eager and willing apprentice to Otto, who slowly starts to warm up to his new assistant. One of the things that Franz notices about Otto is that even though the Nazis have been increasing their totalitarian presence in Vienna, Otto does not bow to the pressure of showing allegiance to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

For example, Otto does not discriminate against Jewish people, including Sigmund Freud, who is one of the shop’s loyal customers. Even though Freud (played by Bruno Ganz) is a local celebrity, the anti-Semitism in Nazi-occupied Vienna has become so prevalent and encouraged, that it’s become increasingly dangerous for Freud and other Jewish people to live in Vienna. “The Tobacconist” shows how this type of cancerous hatred doesn’t happen overnight but can spread slowly through society.

Coming from a sheltered environment, Franz is at first unaware of how different life could be for Jewish people who live in the same city. When Franz first meets Freud (who’s in his 80s), Franz doesn’t even know who Freud is until Otto tells Franz that Freud is a world-famous psychiatrist and professor. Otto introduces his new employee to Freud, who tells Franz that since he’s new to Vienna, he should find a girl to occupy his time. When Franz (who’s a virgin) tells Freud that he doesn’t know anything about love, Freud replies by saying that that no one really knows anything about love.

Franz takes Freud’s advice to find a girlfriend, so he going to a village square in his free time to try and meet new people. People are dancing in the square, and a pretty young woman who’s slightly older than Franz catches his eye. In Franz’s imaginative mind, she asks him to dance and they start to kiss passionately. In reality, she gently rebuffs his advances, but she gives him a quick kiss on the cheek to let him know that she likes him.

Franz is smitten with this mystery girl, but in the meantime, he gets a rude awakening about the anti-Semitism in Vienna when Otto’s shop is vandalized. The store’s front-door sign has been defaced with animal blood, and Otto immediately accuses the butcher next door, Herr Rosshuber (played by Rainer Wöss), who is a Nazi sympathizer. Otto tells Herr Rosshuber that he’s not scared of him and he won’t hesitate to physically fight him if the vandalism happens again. Frau Rosshuber (played by Sabine Herget), the wife who works in the butcher shop, witnesses the conflict and hisses to Otto: “Jew lover!”

Seeing this hateful bigotry up-close makes Franz feel very uncomfortable, but he also has increased respect for Otto, because Franz also has the same social-justice ideals. Franz confides in Otto about the crush he has on the girl from the village square. Otto advises Franz to pursue the girl, and Otto hints that he has regrets about his own love life when he tells Franz that he learned the hard way not to let love get away.

Franz takes Otto’s advice and goes back to the place where he met her, asks around, and ends up bribing a local shop owner to tell him the girl’s name and where she lives. The shop owner warns Franz in a crude way that she has a reputation for being a cheap floozy, but Franz doesn’t care.

When he tracks the girl down at her home, he finds out that she’s a Bohemian living in a crowded, poverty-stricken hovel. However, Franz is unfazed by the unsavory living conditions and only cares about letting her know that he’s interested in dating her. It’s here that Franz finds out that her name is Anezka (played by Emma Drogunova), and she’s so flattered by Franz’s earnest and romantic attention, that she agrees to go on a dinner date with him.

Franz’s raging hormones and his crush on Anezka fuel his interest in sex and losing his virginity. He’s curious to learn more about sex, so he looks at Otto’s stash of illegal pornography magazines, which Otto keeps locked in a store drawer. Otto makes extra money on the side by letting some of his male customers look at the magazines.

While part of this movie’s story is about Franz falling in love and discovering sex for the first time, the ominous and oppressive presence of the Nazis in Vienna and the rest of Austria have far-reaching consequences that deeply affect people’s lives. Franz’s views of the world and his life are forever changed by what he experiences after working at Otto’s tobacco shop.

The cast’s performances in “The Tobacconist” are completely believable, while Leytner elevates the story with plenty of compelling visuals, especially in Franz’s dream sequences. (And the dreams are quite fitting, considering that Freud pioneered the psychiatric practice of interpreting dreams.) Ganz, a Swiss actor who died in 2019 at the age of 77, does a marvelous portrayal as Freud, who has a cynical, world-weary quality to him, but he is charmed and reminded of the innocence of youth when he befriends Franz. Morzé is also impressive as Franz, who goes through an emotional journey and maturity that he did not expect when he first moved to Vienna.

There are several movies that show the widespread horror of how Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany affected people’s lives. But “The Tobacconist” is more of microcosm of how this terrible evil reached a small tobacco shop in Vienna and had a ripple effect on the people who viewed the shop as their neighborhood comfort zone.

Menemsha Films released “The Tobacconist” in select U.S. cinemas on July 10, 2020.

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