1. April 2000 (1952)

A government commissioning the production of a film – if that sounds like a bad idea to you, you might be right. Yet in 1952, the Austrian government under Leopold Figl did just that.

By 1952, Austria had been under Allied and Soviet occupation for 7 years. Like Germany, the country was divided into 4 occupation zones; and Vienna was cut up into 4 sectors, just like Berlin. Negotiations about Austria regaining its sovereignty had stalled, and for some reason Figl thought that a lavish film production would help; or would at least galvanise public opinion in Austria.

That’s how 1. April 2000 came to be. It was written by Rudolf Brunngraber and Ernst Marboe. Marboe, who is also credited as producer, had excellent connections to Figl’s conservative party, and he also happened to be married to Figl’s cousin, which probably helped.
With the backing of the government behind the film, director Wolfgang Liebeneiner could make use of an impressive cast: Curd Jürgens and his wife Judith Holzmeister, Josef Meinrad, Karl Ehmann, Waltraut Haas, Paul Hörbiger, and Hans Moser. Hilde Krahl, the director’s wife, also has a role in this film.
Filming took place from June to October 1952, and the film premiered in Vienna on November 19th.

The premise of this sci-fi satire is simple and convoluted at the same time. It posits that in the year 2000, the issue of Austria’s sovereignty will still not be solved, with 2850 meetings of the committee in charge having brought no conclusion to the matter. On April 1st 2000, Austria elects a new “Prime Minister”, who in his inaugural speech complains about the situation and unilaterally declares Austria to be sovereign country. He also tells the people to protest by ripping up their identity papers issued by the occupation administrations.
In response, the occupying nations accuse Austria of breaking the global peace and they appeal to the “Global Union” to hold a trial in front of the world court with Austria as the defendant.

The trial is to be held by the “World Protection Commission”, which has its own police force as well as its own secret police. These forces are equipped with futuristic suits (which make them look like the Michelin Man), laser guns and X-ray machine, and they travel to Vienna with rocket ships and UFOs.
There is a slight delay though, as part of these forces travel to Australia instead of Austria by mistake.

The rest of the film falls into two parts: a court trial (in which evidence from Austria’s history is provided for the court through educational documentaries as well as on-scene re-enactments) and a nationwide demonstration, which aims to highlights Austria’s cultural heritage.

Both parts are very convoluted and unsystematic successions of scenes and themes which have little rhyme or reason behind them. Everything is throw in here, from Mozart to Beethoven to Johann Strauss. There is a four-minute-long operetta medley as well as a cameo by the Vienna Boys’ Choir and a performance by the Spanish Riding School.

These scenes are at times interrupted by moments showing the Prime Minister organising his defence or planning the demonstrations, with the finance minister quitting because there is no money for all that. There are also some forced romantic subplots which never work.
Apart from the overall satirical streak, there are bits of humour strewn throughout the film (like the finance minister abandoning his post, or a battle re-enactment ending mid-scene because they run out of actors), but nothing here stands out as particularly witty or entertaining.

If all of this feels rather boring now, imagine how boring it must have felt for contemporary audiences. Today, we at least get some amusement out of this film in terms of art direction, and we can be interested in the film’s historical background and odd genesis.

The amount and quality of props and costumes in the re-enacted sequences is impressive. As for the “contemporary” year 2000, most of the people in this “futuristic” film wear 1952 clothing: the working class people, as well as the upper classes. The latter, because it is assumed that evening gowns, tuxedos, and military uniforms are timeless and will still be worn 48 years into the future. Glimpses of futuristic costumes can be had with a handful of extras (presumably supposed to be middle-class?) and a few professionals (mainly journalists). Apart from the laser guns and x-ray machines of the World Protection Police, there is also futuristic looking camera equipment used by the press. The rocket ships and UFOs we see are rather endearing, looking a bit like the stuff you might later see in children’s programmes or occasionally on early Doctor Who episodes.

The tribunal of the world court features representatives from all corners of the globe, but all played by white Austrian/German actors, which is most painfully evident in the low-quality black-face make-up of Ulrich Bettac as the African delegate. While some of the other delegates wear traditional costumes, we can be thankful that the art departments had the good sense of dressing the African delegate in a simple white suit and tie.
As a side-note, it should be mentioned that the Arab delegate is called Hadschi Halef Omar, as a direct reference to the novels of Karl May.

Regarding the film’s propagandistic nature, there are two elements that Figl’s government and the filmmakers clearly wanted audiences to take away from this film: one is an anthem-type song that an eccentric singer (Hans Moser) writes for the demonstrations on the president’s orders. The other element is the central role of the Moscow Declarations of 1943 in the film. In the film, the discovery of this document by the Chinese delegate in the archives is a key moment. And in the real world, Austrian politicians like Leopold Figl always insisted on the commitment expressed in this document, in which the Allies and the Soviet Union declared that “they wish to see re-established a free and independent Austria….” The film conveniently omits passages in the document that might have made Austria’s claim to sovereignty less straight-forward.

Unsurprisingly, the film contributed nothing to the advancement of Austria’s quest for sovereignty. As the highly critical Variety review of May 20th 1953 said: “The problem of an occupied nation making a film about its occupiers and why they should quit is at best a difficult and at worst a hopeless one.”
Negotiations about Austria’s sovereignty did, however, get moving again because of Stalin’s death in 1953, resulting in the Austrian State Treaty of 1955.

Looking at this film in terms of its artistic merits and entertainment qualities, it would boil down to a 3-out-of-10 rating. The film’s “value” today lies exclusively in its nature as a historic oddity in both origin and function.

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