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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

A grand seigneur and tireless mythmaker

“Gregor von Rezzori Is Back Home” is the name of an exhibition now held in Chernivtsi, displaying photos from the private archive of the Bukovyna-born Romanian and Austrian writer, screenwriter, painter and actor
29 January, 2013 - 10:13

The artist’s full name was Gregor Arnulph Hilarius d’Arezzo von Rezzori. He came from an aristocratic Sicilian family that had lived in Ragusa, an Italian-dominated Croatian city, before moving to Vienna in the mid-18th century. His grandfather was an architect, while his father was a civil servant in Chernivtsi.

The family took Romanian citizenship in 1919 after the Bukovyna was annexed by Romania. Von Rezzori was born in Chernivtsi on May 13, 1914 and shaped by the regional capital’s artistic environment, going on to become a great master of German-language literature and author of 25 books. His most famous work was the novel The Death of My Brother Abel, while Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, Oedipus at Stalingrad, an autobiographical essays’ collection The Snows of Yesteryear, and The Orient-Express were quite popular, too. He created the strange “vast and glorious nation of Maghrebinia” in his Tales of Maghrebinia, a country that cannot be found on any world map, because, despite the author placing it “in the southeast,” its boundaries “lie in the hearts and souls of its inhabitants.” However, it is clear that Maghrebinia is an avatar of Bukovyna, so colorful, but also very real and familiar to us.

Von Rezzori moved to Bucharest in the mid-1930s, served his time in the Romanian army, and then started to earn a living as an artist. He moved to Berlin in 1938, where he distinguished himself as a writer, screenwriter, print and radio journalist.

He lived as a stateless person for many years before becoming an Austrian citizen in 1982. A frequent traveler throughout his life, von Rezzori’s spiritual quest brought him to Romania, Italy, Germany, Rhodes and the United States. He spent a lot of his life in France, where he achieved his greatest successes as a film actor and screenwriter. He was the screenwriter of eight feature films in 1936 and debuted as a film actor in Sie, directed by Rolf Thiele in 1954. Von Rezzori was admitted to the German PEN Club in 1958. He starred in the films of French and German directors Denys de La Patelliere, Louis Malle, Volker Schloendorff, and Geza von Radvanyi. Von Rezzori’s last acting role was in Le Beau Monde, directed by Michel Polac in 1981. The artist lived in the Italian region of Tuscany for many years, dying in Donnini on April 23, 1998.

The current exhibition is especially interesting as it consists of photographs from von Rezzori’s private archive, covers different periods of his life, reflects the stages of his literary biography, allows visitors to take look not only of the writer’s creativity, but his childhood and adolescence, too, pictures relatives and friends who made his inner circle and included many world famous people in their own right, and demonstrates how diverse the writer’s talents were. He called himself a man grieving for the lost homeland. The exhibition shows the versatility and diversity of the artist’s talents that allowed him to make a mark not only in literature, but in fine arts and film, too. The exhibition had great success in Bucharest and Iasi, both in Romania, in 2012.

It was organized by the Austrian Library of Chernivtsi, Austrian Academic Exchange Service of Lviv, Ukrainian-German Cultural Society at the Gedankendach Center of Chernivtsi, and Chernivtsi Museum of Fine Arts.

The peerless magician and wizard, a “merry heretic” and “divine seducer,” cosmopolitan and bon vivant, most elegant grand seigneur, unequaled storyteller and tireless mythmaker, the great Chernivtsi-born German-language writer von Rezzori is back in his hometown, even if only in photographs.

The exhibition will be open in Chernivtsi till February 11.

By Maria VYSHNEVSKA, Chernivtsi