Exploring the City of Dreams: 10 Most Memorable Vienna Movie Moments

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise/Photo © Sony Pictures Entertainment

Paris, New York, Rome, San Francisco, Hong Kong — hundreds of treasured movie memories have been shaped by famous scenes that play out in these distinctive cities. But as international locations go, Vienna has long had its own special hold on writers, filmmakers, location scouts, set designers, and actors looking for a certain cultural and historical significance and a unique central European aesthetic that combines Old World and New. From February 27 through April 20, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City will honor the cinematic legacy of the Austrian capital with a seventy-film exhibition, Vienna Unveiled: A City in Cinema, which will highlight the great Jewish directors who were forced to abandon the city in the ’30s and ’40s and the many films that made creative use of its landmarks, elegance, and complicated geopolitical past.

This got us thinking about notable movie moments from the City of Dreams (some of which were actually filmed in Prague and other nearby cities). Here are ten of our favorites:

“Before Sunrise” (1995)

Richard Linklater’s ode to young, impulsive love takes place almost entirely in Vienna, and the movie is full of romantic, sublime moments, but Jesse and Celine twice stand before the State Opera House — once when they marvel at the “dream” they seem to be sharing, and once when Jesse quotes W.H. Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening.”

“The Third Man” (1949)

Even people who haven’t seen Carol Reed and Graham Greene’s cynical post-World War II noir know about the final chase through the underground Donaukanal and the infamous moment when Orson Welles, standing before the Riesenrad Ferris Wheel in Prater Park as the vile Harry Lime, disses Switzerland for its invention of the cuckoo clock. (Nearly half a century later, Jesse and Celine are riding the Riesenrad when they kiss for the first time.)

“A Dangerous Method” (2011)

Oscar-winning writer Christopher Hampton’s script, which he based on his own 2002 play The Talking Cure and John Kerr’s 1993 book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, details the early relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, who lived in Vienna. Director David Cronenberg only shot in the Austrian capital for a few days, but one of the pair’s first storied meetings was filmed at Café Sperl, not far from Freud’s actual house.

“Amadeus” (1984)

Though most of it was shot in Prague, Milos Forman’s Best Picture Oscar winner, based on Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play, takes place in late-eighteenth century Vienna, which at the time was a mecca of musicianship. Great scenes are staged in theaters and palaces, but nothing beats the emotional complexity of the climactic moment when the murderously jealous Salieri transcribes, awestruck, as the destitute Mozart dictates his final “Requiem” from his deathbed.

“Museum Hours” (2012)

Jem Cohen’s festival favorite focuses on the relationship that unfolds between an aging museum guard and a visiting Canadian woman as he shows her around his gorgeous city. Many of the most moving moments occur while he observes visitors while on the job at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, an aesthetic sanctuary where Rembrandt, Bruegel and timeless works of the Dutch Masters silently contribute to the unspoken dialogue between art and life.

“The Piano Teacher” (2001)

A perennial Cannes favorite, Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke set this adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek’s novel about a woman with disturbing sexual compulsions in Vienna, where she teaches at the Konzerthaus, or Conservatory. The gorgeous classical music used throughout is a jarring counterpoint to the depravity on display.

“The Emperor Waltz” (1948)

Billy Wilder’s comic musical stars Bing Crosby as an American salesman who travels to Vienna to persuade the emperor to buy a gramophone and thus boost sales among Austrians. A subplot about poodle-mating (!!) leads to a romantic entanglement with a countess (played by Joan Fontaine) and a climactic confrontation with the emperor during which the salesman trades fortune for love.

“The Wedding March” (1928)

Vienna-born actor-turned-writer-director Erich von Stroheim actually shot this silent film on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, but he infused his story of a prince torn between love and status with deep affection for his hometown.

“Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession” (1980)

This controversial psychological thriller from director Nicolas Roeg details the obsessive sexual dynamic between two Americans (including Art Garfunkel as a controlling psychiatrist) living in Vienna. Reportedly deemed “a sick film made by sick people for sick people,” the movie didn’t get a home video release for twenty-five years, but it does include a (seemingly) romantic first date strolling through the Klimt gallery in Belvedere Palace.

“The Illusionist” (2006)

Like “Amadeus,” Neil Burger’s adaptation of the Steven Millhauser short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” was filmed in the Czech Republic, but its story of a magician commoner’s pursuit of a countess takes place in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Vienna. Stand-in Czech chateaus and castles abound, but the most riveting scenes are those in the cramped theater where Eisenheim confounds his audiences and enchants his romantic quarry.