In ‘The Tobacconist,’ a Young Austrian Befriends Freud During WWII

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From left: Simon Morze as Franz and Bruno Ganz as Sigmund Freud in “The Tobacconist.” (Petro Domenigg, via JTA.org)

By Curt Schleier

On the surface, “The Tobacconist” looks like a typical coming-of-age story: small town boy becomes a man in the big city.

But this independent film, directed by Nikolaus Leytner, is set in Vienna during the lead-up to the Nazi occupation of the Austrian city. And Sigmund Freud is a central character.


The story, adapted from a Robert Seethaler novel, follows 17-year-old Franz (Simon Morze), who is raised in the Austrian countryside but eventually sent to apprentice in a tobacco shop in Vienna.

One of his regulars is Dr. Freud (Bruno Ganz). Though already world famous, Freud befriends young Franz. As might be expected, the teenager seeks advice about a particular lady he’s met. Freud does what he can but admits that no one really understands women.

As the Nazis move unimpeded into the country, tensions arise between Franz and his lover. The Jewish Dr. Freud refuses to emigrate.

In some ways, the film has a timeless message. Early on, when Franz first steps off the train at the Vienna station, an old vendor, seeing his discomfort, asks if he’s feeling unwell.

“It stinks,” Franz replies. “Maybe it’s the canal.”

The vendor responds: “It’s not the canal, it’s the times.”

The German-language film with English subtitles will be released July 10 via Kino Lorber, which shares revenue with local theaters. It can be accessed here.

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