Home Entertainment ‘Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert’ – Deadline – Billionschannel

‘Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert’ – Deadline – Billionschannel

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‘Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert’ – Deadline – Billionschannel

“They treat you like a movie star,” says an admirer to Ingeborg Bachmann at one of her celebrated readings. She smiles graciously and agrees, thus establishing the baseline for her story.

Ingeborg Bachmann may not be a familiar name to many people outside the German-speaking world, but veteran German director Margarethe von Trotta evokes this mid-century poet’s struggle with life, love, and language in a mood piece so persuasively intimate that it doesn’t matter whether or not you have heard of her.

 What matters is that you understand immediately that this is a woman of remarkable talents, a brilliant woman who is visibly colluding in her own destruction by a controlling man. One of the oldest stories in the world, in other words, made immediate by Vicky Krieps’s mercurial portrayal and Von Trotta’s extravagant, operatic and equally mercurial direction

The film is clearly a meeting of minds. Krieps – who, having so recently played the Austrian empress Sisi in Corsage to such deserved acclaim, seems to be on a roll with brilliant, damaged, iconic heroines – hits the sweet spot between Bachmann’s stature as a public intellectual and her emotional brittleness. Margarethe von Trotta, a director most famously associated with the socially committed New German Cinema movement of the ‘70s, here pulls out the melodramatic stops with tornados of Mahler on the soundtrack and a theatrical use of shafts and washes of light that give every scene a sense of heightened reality. At 80, she is going for broke.

In real life, the crowning glory of Bachmann’s writing was a series of five lectures that ask essentially how the writer engages with the world at a philosophical level. Von Trotta’s film engages with the world physically. The center of a writer’s world may be her desk, but Ingeborg Bachmann sweeps grandly from opera houses to seedy underground bars, from a bridge across the Seine to a Baroque salon in Rome and thence – of course – to the sandy expanses of the Jordanian desert. The writer’s inward story is thus told by constantly journeying outwards, her intellectual travails translated into tangible experience.

The time line, by contrast, is something of a blur. In early scenes, we see Bachmann in a pink satin dress, with shades of Marilyn Monroe, being courted by Swiss playwright Max Frisch (a portly Ronald Zehrfeld, looking disturbingly like Orson Welles in his Harry Lime period).

The clothes suggest this is sometime in the late ‘50s, but you would only know that if you already knew. A minute or two later, we are in Wadi Rum with another, younger man who is eventually revealed to be Adolf Opel (Tobias Resch), a likeable Austrian journalist and screenwriter who was Bachmann’s companion for some years in the ‘60s, apparently bringing her some respite from what was clearly a formidable addiction to barbiturates. So I read later, anyway. Then we’re back in Vienna, Zurich or Rome, sometimes for only seconds at a time.

These  transitions between scenes can be giddying, the vagueness of the era frustrating, the identities of the various men in whom Bachmann invests far too much – and how can she not, since she is frequently the only woman in a crowded room – distractingly unexplained. What can I say? You have to simply stay with it and hope these slices and fragments eventually fall into place. Which they do, in a kind of crescendo of coalescing emotions. There won’t be a happy ending, but there is a sense of completion.

At the core of the slice-of-life story that gradually comes together is Frisch – a powerfully and minutely observed performance by Zehrfeld –  whose fascination with Bachmann sours into jealousy, suspicion and simple resentments over things like the fact that she never cooks a proper dinner. Who sent these flowers? he demands. Who was on the phone? Why didn’t you mention me?

As he bullies her, Bachmann seems to lose her voice. She could be any woman – an Everywoman – finding herself silenced because anything she says will only make it worse. She could be any woman torn between her creative, thinking self and the dominant dream of happy domesticity, any woman who holds on to a rotten love, hoping to make it work. Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey to the Desert is unquestionably a feminist story, filtered through a real life. It may also be the most perfectly realized film at the Berlinale.

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