(director/writer: Werner Schroeter; screenwriter: novel by Ingeborg Bachmann/Elfriede Jelinek; cinematographer: Elfi Mikesch; editor: Juliane Lorenz; music: Giacomo Manzoni; cast: Isabelle Huppert (unnamed woman), Mathieu Carrière (Malina), Isolde Barth (Mother), Can Togay (Ivan), Elisabeth Krejcir (Lina), Fritz Schediwy (Father), Libgart Schwarz (Fräulein Jellinek); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Steffen & Steffen Kuchenreuther; Neue Studio Film; 1991-Germany/Austria-in French & German with English subtitles)
“It’s a grim film, but I did find it provocative, intellectually stimulating and unique.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
German New Wave director Werner Schroeter (“Willow Springs”/”The Rose King”) presents an emotionally chilling drama. It’s based on a feminist 1971 book by Ingeborg Bachmann (she died in 1973). The director co-writes it with Elfriede Jelinek.
The plot is about an unnamed nervous writer and philosophy professor (Isabelle Huppert, French actress) thrown into a turmoil as she tries to decide between her regular lover and new lover. The attractive but emotionally disturbed woman lives in Vienna with her devoted male companion, Malina (Mathieu Carriere, German actor). She is troubled over nightmares about her demonic father (Fritz Schediwy), fearing he wants to kill her.
One day while on the street looking at shops, she spots a stranger, Ivan (Can Togay, Hungarian actor), and on an impulse follows him into a bank and aggressively initiates an affair. He takes it lightly, but she obsesses over it.
The confused writer veers between the calm Malina and the cool Ivan, while questioning herself if she exists. There are several surreal sequences. It includes one in which she and Ivan become characters in an animated adventure film they are watching with his two children.
As time goes on the woman, an avid letter writer, becomes dangerously unhinged and violently pounds her head against the wall, which eventually leads to a tragedy in her apartment.
It’s fiercely acted (Hupert’s exceptional performance is moving), the visuals are striking and the complex narrative is thought provoking, but it also can be a heavy slog at times. The unconventional structure was filled with Freudian symbolism. The Hupert character in the third act inexplicably sets many lit candles on the floor in her apartment and walks around them. I’m not sure what that might mean. It might be nothing more than showing the chaos of the protagonist’s shattered life.
It’s a grim film, but I did find it provocative, intellectually stimulating and unique.
REVIEWED ON 11/19/2020 GRADE: B +