Based on Robert Seethaler’s best-selling novel of the same name, director Nikolaus Leytner presents a coming-of-age historical drama set in Nazi-occupied Vienna. The plot follows teenager Franz (Simon Morzé) who moves to Austria to be the apprentice of titular tobacconist Otto (Johannes Krisch) at his shop. As he settles into the community, he falls in love with dancer Anezka (Emma Drogunova) and befriends Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz) who offers words of wisdom as Franz experiences vivid dreams.
There’s a beautiful richness and rhythm to the narrative, and the time period is illustrated exquisitely by cinematographer Hermann Dunzendorfer. Each of Franz’s friendships are depicted with great resonance, creating compelling pockets of intimacy that develop within the overarching political landscape of a country on the cusp of World War II.
Even though there’s a lot to unpack, the story never feels overstuffed due to the quality of the writing, and the strength of the performances. Drogunova is a formidable on-screen presence as fun-loving yet fractured Anezka, and Morzé and Krisch share a lovely bond as the strong-willed shopkeeper Otto takes impressionable Franz under his wing. Also, in one his final roles, Bruno Ganz delivers a tender portrayal as Sigmund Freud. The renowned professor isn’t at the centre of this particular story, but he’s of course pivotal in the film’s thematic exploration of psychoanalysis.
The Tobacconist is a stunning piece of work, and Leytner achieves an unusually understated tone for a project that spans a multitude of complex topics. The ‘smoking all hours’ cigar shop environment appears to be almost microcosmic of the fraught snapshot of history that’s captured so masterfully, and the film lures us into a satisfyingly cinematic Freudian slumber that you won’t want to wake up from.