This unique document of an era centers on the Viennese singer Kurt Girk (1932-2019) and his buddy Alois Schmutzer, the “king of the underworld.” Girk’s connections with illegal gambling led to this much-loved interpreter of popular folk songs becoming known as the Frank Sinatra of Austria. Butcher Alois was one of his best friends, a strapping bear of a man who didn’t need a gun to rub someone out.
In Notes from the Underworld, which received a Best Documentary special mention at the Berlin Film Festival, directors Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel give both men ample opportunity to talk about their wartime youth marked by violence, gangster rivalry and courtesy, and the miscarriage of justice that would scar their lives.
In long, penetrating close-ups in black and white, the camera patiently absorbs the body language of the two men as they sit in their kitchens or local cafe telling tall tales and sharing painful memories. The stories told by these charismatic rogues are interspersed with contributions from the other figures involved, as well as archive footage, and Girk’s world-weary ballads.