Filmmaker Stretches TV's Reach

Karin Brandauer takes her European viewers deeper into issues surrounding World War II. AUSTRIAN TELEVISION

YES, she is married to the actor Klaus Maria Brandauer ("Out of Africa," "Colonel Redl," "Mephisto"). But Karin Brandauer is far from unknown in her own right in Austria, where she has directed 10 major television films in as many years. So let's just say that in trying to reach her, I didn't expect to find a telephone number in the phone book. After trying everything else I could think of, someone said, "Why don't you look in the phone book?" There it was.

Later I asked her if this was typical Vienna or if she was just an exceedingly modest person. She said that they'd simply never gotten around to asking for an unlisted number. (In the course of a recent interview at the Cafe Eiles in Vienna, Ms. Brandauer said that they had converted it to an office line now.)

Brandauer studied at the Vienna Film Academy from 1968 to 1975. Since then she has directed (and in some cases written the screenplays for) some 20 films, done almost exclusively for television. What's different about her? She continually aims for the highest mark of what television could be.

She has proved by the success of her endeavors that there is a public eager for television that mirrors the complexity of human relationships - a public fed up with the standard fare of trite and patronizing "shows."

Three recent films in particular, set against the emotion-laden backdrop of Austria in the 1930s, focus on lesser known (or less discussed) issues that remain out of the limelight both in Austria and elsewhere.

For instance: the fate of the gypsies during the Third Reich; the severe economic depression in Austria that preceded its annexation by Germany; Austria's loss of Southern Tyrolia to Italy.

These are not new topics, but they are, in terms of popular media, new platforms from which to view World War II, a war with many facets that is discussed time after time in a formulaic mode. Rather than giving way to this trend toward superficiality, Brandauer's films stand their ground. In doing so, they not only call to mind everything the viewer already knows about wartime Austria, but also carefully enrich that knowledge by illustrating in depth specific causes or effects. They thus create an oppor tunity for true, searching analysis.

"Sidonie," which aired last year on Austrian television, is the true story of a gypsy child taken in by foster parents in Styria, and that community's reaction to the child in the years around 1938.

"Einstweilen wird es Mittag 201>" ("Meanwhile, it's Noon 201>"), from 1987 is based on a case study done around 1933 called "The Unemployed Workers of Marienthal." Three young sociologists from the University of Vienna travel to Lower Austria to observe firsthand the effects of the closing of a spinning and weaving mill on the small town that depends on it. The film's title derives from an account given by one of the workers of his new daily schedule. He describes the way the mornings, once busy and productive, vanish into a stream of inactivity. "Meanwhile" 201> after a morning spent at the unemployment office, kicking stones into the river from the bridge, pacing back and forth in front of the house 201> "It's Noon." Eventually the only work the unemployed workers have is the commission to tear down the factory where they used to earn a living.

"Verkaufte Heimat" ("The Sold Homeland") tells of the division of South Tyrolia from Austria and the attendant tensions between the German-speaking natives and their Italian neighbors. It is the true story of the relocation of one population to the place formerly inhabited by another, a situation that was repeated over and over during the war years, and one whose effects are still being played out today in the nationalistic uprisings in Central and Eastern Europe.

Many directors might shy away from these topics as esoteric or uninteresting to the general public. But Brandauer's sensitive and thought-provoking productions show that she respects her viewers.

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