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The Tobacconist

(Der Trafikant)

Based on the bestselling novel by Robert Seethaler

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A World War II-era story told with unusual sensitivity, The Tobacconist is a stunning recreation of the late 1930s in Vienna, on the eve of Hitler’s takeover, and also manages to be a vibrant coming-of-age story and an intriguing portrayal of Sigmund Freud, expertly portrayed by Bruno Ganz.

The film opens far from Vienna, in the beautiful lakeside community of Attersee. The young hero, Franz (Simon Morze), happens upon his mother and her latest lover having passionate sex outdoors as storm clouds threaten. When her lover is struck by lightning, Franz’s mother sends Franz to Vienna to get a job with a tobacconist, who happens to be another former lover. The boy starts working as an apprentice to Otto (Johannes Krisch), a cynical but generous man who lost a leg in the First World War and is welcoming to all customers, including Communists and Jews. One of his favored patrons is the controversial sage of Vienna, Dr. Freud.

Franz eventually seeks out Freud for advice on his love life. The young man is intensely attracted to Anezka (engagingly played by Emma Drogunova). The Freudian underpinnings of this romance are fairly overt; Franz is clearly attracted to a woman who reminds him of his promiscuous mother. Franz approaches the good doctor for romantic counsel. Freud is supportive but clearly has other pressing concerns, especially the rising anti-Semitism in Vienna.

The Tobacconist does an excellent job balancing the personal and political stories, and here the director may owe a debt to the author of the original novel, Robert Seethaler. There are powerful scenes depicting the growing violence in Vienna, especially after the Nazis take over the city and arrest Otto. Morze is vibrant as Franz, and Krisch has the right mix of harshness and solicitude as the uncompromising tobacconist. Ganz makes Freud wise and vulnerable at the same time.

Although there have been other films made about this traumatic period of history, the unique characters and the voluptuous filmmaking contribute to one more worthwhile journey to a dark corner of the past.

– Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

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