Franz West (1909-85) remembers his youth in Vienna: the variety of the Jewish population of the so called Matzah-Island, his commitment to the worker’s movement of the Red Vienna and the rise of Austro-fascism and National Socialism. West’s masterly narration combined with impressing archive footage illustrate and elucidate the complex Austrian history between WW1 and WW2.

16mm - 91’ – color / b&w – 1:1,33
optical sound - OV german
Subtitles: english, french

A film by Ruth Beckermann, Josef Aichholzer
Camera Tamas Ujlaki
with Franz West

Premiere 30.4.1983, Stadtkino Vienna
Cinema release 11.11.1983, Stadtkino, Vienna
Festivals Leipzig, Jerusalem, Cinéma du réel Paris, San Francisco, Florence, etc.

“In my personal life I lived through different stages. There was one period determined by football, nothing but football; each Sunday we would go to see a match and I myself played in a team. Then
came another period: politics. A very strong interest in politics and the attempt to understand this world that I only knew from party names so far.
Contrary to today people at the time had a very good feeling for who was a Jew. Today, with so few Jews around this is no longer so. Types like myself, with black hair and not quite immaculate Greco-Roman nose, were immediately recognized as Jews. All you needed to do was jostle some unfriendly fellow-passengers in the tram, and you were sure to be abused as a Jew. That happened all the time.”


PETER TURRINI____Fascination and Irritation
The film RETURN TO VIENNA fascinated me. Why? Usually, I am not too pleased with the making of documentary films, as it is practiced and rehearsed in this country. It irritates me when documentaries surround the people or the subject they are trying to document with so many filmic ideas and documents that they become progressively more invisible. I do not buy the love of the documentary film-maker for his subject, if all I can see are amazing images that are trying to work the material up to a proper film, when I hear witnesses who attest to the special nature of things, when I see documents that are meant to affirm the authentic ... In RETURN TO VIENNA Ruth Beckermann and Josef Aichholzer have reestablished the greatest chance of documentary film: They put one man, Franz West, at the center of their film, a Jewish Social Democrat and a Communist. Without any special filmic and documentary preparation we find out about this man’s fate, while seeing the fate of the entire Austrian republic in front of our eyes. This film poses a challenge, especially at the beginning, because it does not fulfill the expectations of distorted ways of seeing, the greed for rapid changes, but the longer you are watching, the more you are rewarded: I have never seen a documentary where I experi- enced the connection between a person and history as deeply as here.
A man like Franz West has few chances for public appearances in Austria. His life cannot be captured with media slogans, it is too rich for that. His activities cannot be demonstrated with one act, he did too much for that. His ideas have not become divided into private and public ones. His courage is not spectacular, but rather continuous. His humor does not congeal to rapidly communicable sound-bites, it warms an entire activist life.It is a further merit of Ruth Beckermann and Joseph Aichholzer’s film, that it provides more publicity for the man Franz West.

profil, November 1983

Docus dealing with historical personalities often suffer from a sheer lack of shooting time to allow the one being interviewed to unspool his biographical story at his own leisure and in his own manner. Ruth Beckermann and Josef Aichholzer’s Return to Vienna is a welcome exception to the norm for the subject, Franz West (Weintraub), is not only highly literate (he’s a professional journalist), but also a truly gifted storyteller with a balanced view of history as it unfolded a half-century ago in one section of Austria in the Viennese community of Leopoldstadt. Beckermann and Aichholzer score as exemplary historical documentarists.
Variety, 14.12.1983