Two Films by Ulrike Ottinger: Ticket of No Return (1979) and Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia (1989)

Though Ulrike Ottinger is probably one of the key female figures in the New Germany Cinema that sprung up in the late-1960s, and one who started directing her own films by the early-1970s, she was a filmmaker who until recently was fairly unknown to me. I’ve seen three of her features just this year, and have already written about the epic documentary travelogue Chamisso’s Shadow (2016). Like a lot of filmmakers who are drawn to documentary, there’s a lot of it even in her fiction features, particularly the Mongolian-set Johanna d’Arc of Mongolia (with its very careful use of three different languages in its original title). Even the 1979 film I deal with below has little elements of real life, as I gather that one of the characters was a real-life homeless woman well-known in the area at the time, and it wilfully dispenses with narrative expectations as its central character gets even more messy (the German title translates as “diary of a drinker”). It was screened as part of an online film festival recently, and I look forward to catching up with more of Ottinger’s work.

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Ar Condicionado (Air Conditioner, 2020)

I’m just following up my Global Cinema piece on Angola with another, more recent, film from that country which was recently given its international premiere online by the We Are One Film Festival, via YouTube, having screened for the first time only earlier this year at the International Rotterdam Film Festival. You don’t see much cinema from the country, for fairly obvious reasons, but I thought it worth representing a more modern take on some of the same issues.


It’s really all about the tone this film, the sort of dreamlike atmosphere that suffuses the world through which Matacedo (José Kiteculo) wanders. He’s some kind of maintenance guy (or concierge, or security perhaps) in a crumbling Luanda apartment block, where air conditioning units have been falling off. He has a problem with his ears, allowing the film to just move into wordless almost surreal sequences at times. In this, the camerawork and sound is crucial, allowing the film to be both heightened and magical while still very much grounded in its class consciousness: there’s a shouty boss who is very insistent that his air conditioning gets fixed, pushing Matacedo and his colleague Zezinha (Filomena Manuel) into action. You get the sense that maybe the air conditioning itself is a symbol of a class divide in a country which has been pulled apart by war until only relatively recently; the crumbling infrastructure is just one way in which society has been stretched and broken by this extended period. But while that all looms in the background, Matacedo is just trying to get by, and his relaxed groove is what the film is ultimately trying to convey, pretty successfully I think.

Air Conditioner film posterCREDITS
Director Fradique [Mário Bastos]; Writers Fradique and Ery Claver; Cinematographer Ery Claver; Starring José Kiteculo, Filomena Manuel; Length 72 minutes.
Seen at home (YouTube), London, Thursday 11 2020.