Another odd independent Austrian filmmaker is Ruth Beckermann, who has been working since the 1970s and whose films have largely been documentaries but like the one below, have played with the edges of dramatisation or with historical subjectivity. She made a sort of travelogue in A Fleeting Passage to the Orient (1999), which I’ve already reviewed on my blog, though this 2016 film was the first exposure I’d had to her work.
It’s an odd film this one, and its oddness largely lies in its sort of contrapuntal relationship to the documentary genre. Two actors (Anja Plaschg and Laurence Rupp) read letters sent between poets Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann — two people who shared markedly different experiences of wartime Europe — during their relationship from the late-40s to late-60s. As it opens, in darkness, the faces of the actors are seen reading the texts into microphones and I’d thought it might be a sort of Straub/Huillet type exercise (I suppose there are similarities in that those two French-German filmmakers liked deploying texts in brutally minimalist ways). However, though the essential form doesn’t change, there are all kinds of interruptions to our expectations, not least distancing the words expressed with those exchanged between the actors. It’s hard to really encapsulate, but it’s certainly an interesting experience.
Director Ruth Beckermann; Writers Beckermann and Ina Hartwig (based on letters by Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan); Cinematographer Johannes Hammel; Starring Anja Plaschg, Laurence Rupp; Length 89 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury (Bertha DocHouse), London, Thursday 8 December 2016.