Ranking: #109/111

Director: Hans Karl Breslauer (Austria)

Genre: Political Drama

Based on a 1922 novel by Jewish writer and journalist, Hugo Bettauer, this powerful political drama prefigures the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, as well as the birth of Israel, in a well-told parable shot in Vienna. It’s as if the film is an epic poem about the future of the Jewish people a decade before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. For such an emotional subject, the film mostly succeeds in avoiding melodrama (except towards the end), sticking to striking cinematic imagery to make its impact.

The plot revolves around an anti-Jewish campaign in Austria in which Jews are blamed for unemployment during an economic downturn. There had been a mass migration of Eastern European Jews during, and after, World War 1 to Vienna and Berlin. In the story, an economic crisis brought about by a collapse of Austria’s currency leads to politicians and masses scapegoating this group of Jewish migrants and their descendants. An expulsion law is introduced in the parliament for the deportation of Jews. This proves to be counterproductive and, to cut a long story short, the government eventually reverses its decision and the end of the discrimination against Jews results in an economic revival for the country.

Written and directed by Hans Karl Breslauer, the film has this remarkable undertone of being a premonition of things to come. The cinematography provides the film with strong imagery, building up a portrait of a society which is morally fickle, with the masses being susceptible to manipulation and mobilisation, especially when the economy is in trouble.

It is sad that the kind of events described in the film came to pass a decade later. Sadly, too, the novelist Hugo Bettauer was assassinated by a racist in 1925, shortly after the film was released, while the director himself died an impoverished man in Salzburg in 1965.