With THE TOFACIST Nikolaus Leytner, who is best known for his TV work, is filming a novel that is now required reading in many schools. We’ll reveal in our review whether this will also apply to the screen adaptation from now on.
The Plot Summary
Austria 1937: 17-year-old Franz Huchel (Simon Morzé) leaves his home village on Lake Attersee to become an apprentice to the Viennese tobacconist Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch). One of the small tobacco shop’s regular customers is Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz), who is already marked by advancing age and illness and who Franz is immediately fascinated by. When the boy falls unhappily in love with the beautiful vaudeville dancer Anezka (Emma Drogunova), he seeks advice from Freud, but finds that the female gender is at least as much of a mystery to the world-famous psychoanalyst. Franz is still determined to fight for his love, but is drawn into the maelstrom of political events when Hitler’s troops take command…
Movie explanation of the ending
There are different ways in which you can deal with the subject of World War II in film. You can capture the extent of the suffering without focusing more specifically on individual people. Or you can explicitly deal with a detail of National Socialism or a figure who either represents many or wholly alone. In the past, these different approaches have produced such fundamentally different works as “Dunkirk”, “The Captain” or “Work without an Author”. All of these stories are basically based on the same event and yet are so different. The war and love drama “Der Trafikant”, based on the bestseller of the same name by Robert Seethaler, can be attributed more to the personal approach to the Third Reich. From the perspective of the teenager Franz, who is unexpectedly sent to Austria in 1937, we see how a previously unsuspecting young man discovers his first great love; and only secondly, that around him a nationalist system is currently coming to power. This is an interesting approach that has made the novel compulsory reading in schools, because people of the same age are likely to quickly recognize themselves in a character like Franz. However, this naivety, which is actually so dangerous, doesn’t really come through in the film. On the one hand, because the main character here is drawn in a much more mature way, but on the other hand, he also makes his way through life with meaningless phrases.
One day Franz (Simon Morzé) meets the educated Sigmund Freud and appreciates him as a conversation partner.
Franz Huchel, who was sent alone to work in Vienna at the age of seventeen, is presented in the novel and film adaptation as a popular figure from the start. This works very well, because despite his late awareness of the prevailing conditions in Austria at the time, you can’t be mad at him for his naivety. This Franz does not intentionally close his eyes to the truth. He simply realizes far too late what is happening around him because the dimensions of the horror are simply not (yet) tangible for him. This means that “The Tobacconist” is not dominated by omnipresent horror; The film is never oppressive or uncomfortable in any way, thanks to Hermann Dunzendorfer’s camera work, which focuses on warm colors and soft contours (“The cold heart”) also highlighted on a visual level. There is also a pleasing orchestral score by composer Matthias Weber (“The dark valley”) the events are dutifully accompanied. Due to this solid presentation, the war theme in “The Tobacconist” increasingly moves into the background. Everything focuses on the coming-of-age of young Franz, who, newly in love for the first time, only has eyes and thoughts for his beloved. Given the already very subjective narrative style, it is initially authentic that one only ever notices something about the war in a very casual way.
Before all three central themes of “The Tobacconist” – Franz’s first love, his friendship with the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the smoldering world war – finally converge, director Nikolaus Leytner scatters (“The Case of the Lemming”) Every now and then he uses smaller, contemporary motifs, but he does so without any idea of what he could do with them other than just holding them up to the camera rather cheaply. At a fair, Franz and his Anezka stop at a shooting range that is very prominently placed in the picture, where something like “Happy Negro Shooting” is on offer. Just like Franz attends a questionable theater performance in which an actor dressed as Hitler acts on the stage and eats Austria – in the truest sense of the word. And Agnezka’s liaison with an SS officer is also written by Klaus Richter (“The Black Brothers”) and Leytner herself is only worth a short scene, which, however, only makes a statement about the love relationship between her and Franz and does not – as was probably hoped – bring together the narrative level of love and the narrative level of war. Every now and then there are scenes that simply serve to remind the viewer of the political situation in Austria. But this call doesn’t resonate, because it’s always just a (visual) keyword, but not a substantial integration into the rest of the event. And so it happens that for a long time you watch three different storylines, each of which is far too superficial, but which never really fit together.
Johannes Krisch plays the tobacconist Otto Trsnhek.
The most successful one is the one about Franz’s heartbreak. Actor Simon Morze (“One of us”) falls believably in love with the beautiful Anezka on screen and falls head over heels for her. Above all, the lovelorn look and the emotional languishing are apparent to him, but the subsequent rants about Sigmund Freud are only limited to a limited extent. Bruno Ganz (“In Times of Fading Light”) has perfectly adapted the style and gestures of the famous psychoanalyst, but the script only contains phrases about love and its transience for both him and Simon. It’s like watching two people read fortune cookies to each other. Only when the noose around the Jewish Freud’s neck tightens and he can no longer even go for a walk without danger does the interaction between the two men feel alive. Emma Drogunova (“Mixing jar”) Unfortunately, as Anezka, she doesn’t get anything to do at all. She is not allowed to do more than turn Franz’s head, put on a lascivious stage show once and later break his heart. And also the role of Johannes Krisch (“Out of nowhere”) The impersonated tobacconist Otto Trsnjek remains superficial until, true to the original, he disappears two thirds of the way through the film. Only the finale, which is already very moving in the book, leaves you at least somewhat reconciled. But to spend two hours torturing yourself through cheap-looking sets in which actors recite their lines in a largely monotonous manner, buying a cinema ticket is actually less worthwhile.
Conclusion: “The Tobacconist” is the film adaptation of the bestseller of the same name as a superficial study of a teenage boy who falls in love with a Bohemian woman shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. The film tells three stories at once: about love, friendship and war. All three remain superficial until the end.
“The Trafikant” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from November 1st.