December 8, 2019

Teen Befriends Freud in ‘The Tobacconist’

The international 2012
best-selling novel “The Tobacconist” by Robert Seethaler tells the story of 17-year-old Franz Huchel, a newly hired smoke-shop clerk who befriends regular customer Sigmund Freud amid rising anti-Semitism in Nazi-occupied Vienna.

The 2018 film, co-written and directed by Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Leytner, stars the late Bruno Ganz as Freud and Simon Morzé as Huchel. “The Tobacconist” makes its Los Angeles debut May 5 at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.

“What was special to me was this unusual friendship between a naive but curious country boy and the world-famous inventor of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and that this friendship arises in a politically very heated time,” Leytner told the Journal via email. “The story itself follows the novel very closely, but I have added some elements to make the thoughts and feelings of Franz Huchel, which the novel describes, also visible in the film. These are the dream sequences and Franz’s daydreams.”

Although the story is fictional, Leytner found it “quite conceivable for me and therefore true in a higher sense” and he strived for verisimilitude in its presentation. “We did a lot of research, both the political situation and the living conditions in the society then, and the historical personality of Sigmund Freud,” he said. “It was important to me to be as accurate as possible.”

Leytner said that when adapting a novel for the screen, “You’re always doing a remake — a remake of all the movies that hundreds of thousands of readers have read in their minds. I have tried to bring to the screen the pictures I saw in my mind while reading the novel.”

In one of his last appearances onscreen, Ganz, known for playing Hitler in “Downfall,” dispenses romantic advice to young Huchel as cigar-aficionado Freud. Ganz passed away in February.

“The work with Bruno Ganz was very intense, but also uncomplicated because he was an obsessed worker,” Leytner said. “He prepared himself very well and was always open to new ideas on the set.”

Born in Graz, Austria, Leytner fell in love with cinema as a child and aimed to follow in the footsteps of role models François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Ingmar Bergman, Bernardo Bertolucci and Michelangelo Antonioni. Leytner studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, and founded the Academy of Austrian Film in 2009.

Leytner is not Jewish but said, “This subject — the greatest catastrophe of the last century in Europe — has occupied me as a person and artist for a long time. I am very proud my film is being shown at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and hope the audience will like it.”

“The Tobacconist” will screen at 4:30 p.m. May 5 at Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.