by Ulrike Ottinger, 1979, 108 min >>Thursday 17 Aug 8.30pm
+ Superbia by Ulrike Ottinger, 1986, 15 min
Avant-garde German auteur Ulrike Ottinger takes us on a tour of the nightlife of a phantasmagorical West Berlin in this stylish, witty film from 1979. A beautiful, impeccably-dressed woman known only as ‘She’ (Tabea Blumenschein) books a one-way ticket to Berlin and embarks on a sight-seeing drinking binge through the city with one purpose in mind: to drink herself to death. ‘She’ makes a series of increasingly bizarre forays into the city, drifting from one eye-catching locale to the next and encountering a host of strange characters played (among others) by German punk icon Nina Hagen and art-house favourites Eddie Constantine, Magdalena Montezuma and Volker Spengler.
"Her resolve to live out a narcissistic, pessimistic cult of solitude strengthened... until it reached the level at which it could be lived."
Journeys from Berlin/1971
by Yvonne Rainer, 1980, 125 min >>Wednesday 16 Aug 9pm
A woman explores the ramifications of terrorism through an extended therapy session. How are oppositional politics advanced by their partisans and neutralised by the State? Radicals are those who expose hidden repressive tendencies in a society. Their tactics are criminalized, politics psychologized and reforms bureacratized.
In JOURNEYS FROM BERLIN/1971, Rainer weaves together street scenes, fragments from her teenage diary, a couple - played by critic Amy Taubin and artist Vito Acconci - discussing the issue of revolutionary violence while cooking dinner, and an emotionally exhausting monologue by film theorist Annette Michelson, who assumes the role of an analysand, recounting her erotic history and related ruminations to a therapist played by a man, a woman, and a nine year old. What results is a potent, digressive essay, achieved through radical juxtaposition, on insurrectionary struggle and the convolutions of inner life. Rainer began developing the project during a year-long fellowship she spent in West Berlin from 1976-77, and admits that it is one of her more challenging works, for reasons that go beyond the film’s grappling with political violence. “In 1971 I tried to commit suicide, so that was personally a traumatic period in my life,” Rainer says, alluding to the year referenced in the film’s title. “There’s this suggested contrast between political violence and violence against oneself, although it’s obliquely dealt with.”
"JOURNEYS FROM BERLIN/1971 is without a doubt the most ambitious, most risk taking work of Rainer's cinematic career. The film Is constructed out of a variety of filmic and literary materials. Its two major sections involve a psychoanalysis session, which occupies much of the screen time, and a kitchen conversation, which resembles a radio drama that we hear but never visually witness. The disjunction between the public and the private, always a counterpoint set up between the analysis session and the conversation about terrorism: the one an excavation of innermost fantasies and emotional traumas within an impersonal space, the other a debate of pressing social issues enacted as table-top repartee. The counterpoint weaves in and out of that tricky terrain wherein the individual psyche connects up to the historical body politic."
--B. Ruby Rich
Sisters, or the balance of happiness
by Margarethe Von Trotta, 1979, 95 min >>Thursday 10 Aug 9pm
+ Subjektitude (Subjectivity) by Helke Sander, 1966, 4 min
A concise blast of feminist filmmaking, Sander's first film is a tense yet playful four minute short that dissects a typical urban scene at a bus stop on a busy street in Berlin. Sander adopts a "subjective" camera style, simulating the viewpoints of different individuals, whose inner thoughts are voiced over the soundtrack. As she approaches the bus stop, a young woman ponders the consequences of lowering the voting age to ten years old. This political question is interrupted when her eyes and thoughts drift toward two separate young men who have taken an obvious interest in her. In her thoughts heard over the images, she coolly and critically dismisses the men for their masculine posturing and superficiality. But then the film cuts to the sexist and objectifying perspective of those men, who completely fail to recognize the woman's subjectivity. Before the aggressively charged encounter between the three individuals forces the woman to flee into a taxi, a montage of their perspectives highlights how the experience of the city is strongly determined by gender, which thoroughly permeates all subjectivity.
Sisters, or the balance of happiness
by Margarethe Von Trotta, 1979, 95 min
Starting in 1979, Margarethe von Trotta began a cinematic trilogy centered on the intersubjectivity of women, which cemented her reputation as one of the leading women directors of the German New Wave. SISTERS, OR THE BALANCE OF HAPPINESS is the first of these films, followed in 1981 by MARRIANE AND JULIANNE (winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival) and SHEER MADNESS in 1983.
SISTERS, OR THE BALANCE OF HAPPINESS describes the life of two sisters deeply joined, both emotionally and intellectually, in a symbiotic relationship that weighs heavily on them even after one of them commits suicide. It blends the nightmare landscape of Anna (Gudrun Gabriel), a biology student prone to depression, and the modern business world of Maria (Jutta Lampe), a high-powered assistant to a corporation executive. What at first may look like a film about personal relationships between several characters, quickly becomes von Trotta’s research into the fundamental problem of a dangerous disproportion in today’s Western societies between orientation on social exteriority - on pragmatic and “instrumental” aspects of life - and dedication to psychological interiority - to the life of the soul and psychological and spiritual development. A lack of attention towards and investment in the development of people’s internal world is shown by the director as a totalitarian influence inside democracy, making for a world where established forms of life successfully block potentials for change and effectively dominate criticism. In these circumstances the ability to overcome conformism and the one-dimensionality of such a life is almost an impossible task. Only a self-inflicted death terminating one relationship, and the dramatic impossibility to continue another, force the heroine of the film to start to learn how to appreciate and celebrate human dissimilarity and to be dedicated to the otherness of other people without stopping to be herself.
Von Trotta resisted the interpretation that ''Sisters'' is pessimistic or that Anna is deranged. ''Maybe she's healthier than the other one. Instead of being only career-oriented, she has deep sensitivity. Maybe it's a sign of life to reject success. Anna is studying biochemistry - the manipulation of genetic material - and she fears the consequences of science, and the possibility of creating life artificially. I can't judge Anna. For me as a filmmaker, fantasies and dreams are very important - to let them go and let them exist.'' Inspired by the films of Ingmar Bergman, Carlos Saura and Robert Bresson, Von Trotta is drawn to the screen's capacity to show ''dreams, obsessions, and inner worlds - always linking past and future.'' Personalizing conflict as Von Trotta always does, might be seen as a reduction of the political to psychological categories, but her strength may still be in finding the psychological in the political, and the political in the personal.
No Mercy No Future
by Helma Sanders-Brahm, 1981, 110 min >>Wednesday 9 Aug 8.30pm
A bleak and unforgiving portrayal of madness, notable for its uncompromising realism and a stunning lead performance by Elisabeth Stepanek.
The German feminist film-maker Helma Sanders-Brahms was a key figure in the New German Cinema movement of the 1970s and 80s. She made several acclaimed films over the years, including GERMANY PALE MOTHER (1980), CASTLE IN THE SKY (1987) and most recently CLARA (2008). NO MERCY, NO FUTURE (DIE BERUHRTE), from 1981, was made independently as Sanders-Brahms’ traditional financiers were turned off by the material. The film was inspired by actual letters from a schizophrenic woman identified only as Rita G. whose dialogue and situations were apparently transferred verbatim to the screen.
Veronika is a deranged young woman who hails from a wealthy family. In her madness she trudges through Berlin, lank-haired and grey faced, giving herself to society's castoffs (the old, the disabled, the immigrants) in the hope of finding Christ. Her schizophrenic quirks, all of which seem geared to freak out her ultra-refined relatives, include sending all the money her parents give her to the Pope. Eventually Veronika really pisses off her parents by marrying a penniless black man, who leaves after Veronika’s family pays him off. She ends up running through the streets of Berlin shouting incoherently and hallucinating madly.
Elisabeth Stepanek's performance is faultless. Hers is a bold and unfettered piece of acting with near-constant nudity and one of the most extreme sex scenes--in which she and her partner are literally covered in vaginal blood--in film history. Stepanek hasn’t appeared in too many other films, but her work here marks her as a performer as fearless as any you’re likely to encounter.
by Tony Richardson, 1966, 103 min >>Thursday 3 Aug 8.30pm
A deliciously depraved portrait of sadomasochism in the French countryside, this Marguerite Duras adaptation of a Jean Genet story has a strong following today but upon its release, it was derided for the casting of Jeanne Moreau (against Genet’s wishes) and its depiction of libido-fueled arson and animal poisoning.
It’s a study in the psychopathology of evil (feminine and masculine varieties) and almost stands as a companion to Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU — except it’s defiantly NOT a thriller. In both films a sleepy French village is decimated by random, insane attacks (poison pen letters in the Clouzot, arson, flooding and poisoning in the Richardson). In both films the mob seeks convenient scapegoats based on passion and prejudice rather than reasoning. But the textures and sounds of Richardson’s films are wholly unique. The late David Watkin’s photography is seductive and icy and erotic and oneiric. Jeanne Moreau’s mesmeric performance is placed under a microscope, and the Panavision lenses practically drool over the man she lusts after. Kevin Connor’s sound montage replaces music score with the chirrups and lowings of rural life, creating a strange, floaty time-scape almost wholly devoid of narrative tension but lambent with unfocused menace and desire.
by Marguerite Duras, 1975, 111 min >>Wednesday 2 Aug 9pm
Duras’s favorite collaborator Delphine Seyrig (“the greatest actress in France and possibly in the entire world”) is hypnotic as Anne-Marie Stretter, the wife of a disgraced French diplomat (Michel Lonsdale), suffering from “leprosy of the soul” or what might be termed ennui. Through a mélange of off-screen gossip (nearly all sound is non-synchronous), we learn of Anne-Marie’s scandalous conduct in 1930s India and her eventual fate, engendered by boredom, colonial guilt, and a string of meaningless affairs. Duras renders her study of mental torment in elaborate style (Dave Kehr calls her “the Busby Berkeley of structuralism”), and Bruno Nuytten’s cinematography captures the glittering emptiness of life in a gilded cage—the feeling that privilege can be its own form of illness. Duras wrote and directed India Song without any recourse to the original Indian context, preferring to direct attention to the main female character, her social milieu, and the unexpressed emotion of the people around her and their embodiment in voice and music.
Sois belle et tait-tois
by Delphine Seyrig, 1976, 115 min >>Wednesday 30 July 9pm
Delphine Seyrig, who played major roles in Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman and Marguerite Duras' India Song, was a prominent French actress and a feminist director who, like Carole Roussopoulos, worked on radical feminist documentaries in France in the 1970s. In the film, BE PRETTY AND SHUT UP, she interviews Jane Fonda, Barbara Steele, Ellen Buratyn, Shirley Maclaine, and other actresses who worked with the French Nouvelle Vague and Hollywood directors in the 1960s and 1970s.
The dialogue among the actresses about typical female characters with limited roles, excessive sexualization and the relationship between female characters in films are naturally developed into a serious discussion about “Why we need women’s cinema”. Even though the film presents a simple talking-head format, it provides an insight into the social prejudices, negative views, and isolation of the actresses and raises piercing and interesting questions about the ways in which actresses and images of women are treated in the film industry.
The Time We Killed
by Jennifer Reeves, 2004, 94 min >>Wednesday 30 July 9pm
* 16mm print
+ Five Year Diary [Reel 23}
A breakdown (and) after the Mental Hospital
by Anne Charlotte Robertson, 1982/91, 26min, Super8 transferred to digital, double soundrack: one track recorded during the manic episode (1982); 2nd track, Anne reflects, years later, on this time (1991)
"Synopsis: Introduction; paranoia about root vegetables; esoteric sign language; searching for hidden significances; crush on Tom Baker ("Doctor Who" from BBC Television); my cats Amy and Buddy; vegetarian cooking; the compost heap; my mother and her house; driving into Boston; unemployment; television hypervigilance; hiding inside; exorcism with tea and mirror and lamps; too much wine; my friend the painter Susan Brown; the movie The Turning Point; experiences in a mental hospital; psychiatric session recording; autumn street and garden scenes; the mental day-hospital; domestic still-lives; bingeing; self Gestalt-therapy; school; groceries; winter; my garden; a series of self-portraits.
My nervous breakdown had been characterized by paranoia, and massive manic delusions of being Goddess of the World. I had been afraid of root vegetables, plastic, and aluminium, and put all my belongings into plastic bags. I had eaten food with my fingers in front of the camera, <<since God told me to do so>>. I kept an audiotape diary of my delusions; this is one of the soundtracks. (The recovery period has a tape of a hidden recorded psychiatric session.)” (Anne Charlotte Robertson)
The Time We Killed
by Jennifer Reeves, 2004, 94 min
In Reeves’ wondrous first feature-length film, Robyn (played by poet Lisa Jarnot) finds herself unable to leave her Manhattan apartment after the death of a girlfriend, though she plugs away at a novel and the outside world encroaches in the form of the Iraq invasion raging on TV, the miserable neighbours shouting at each other next door and the occasional awkward visit from a concerned friend. The post-9/11 political situation is refracted through an isolated female subjectivity: "Terrorism brought me out of the house," says poet Robyn in her winding voiceover, "But the War on Terror drove me back in." Reeves freely intersperses lyrical flights and a surprisingly mordant wit in her month-by-month chronicle of the central figure’s unraveling agoraphobia.
Described by its director as a work of “true fiction” and shot in high-contrast black-and-white 16mm film and digital video, THE TIME WE KILLED is a hybrid blending of documentary material, scripted scenes, and improvisation. The film includes Lisa Jarnot’s poetry, written in the voice of her character, interspersed throughout the narrative, and a brilliantly dense sound collage - the soundtrack features amongst others, contemporary composers Zeena Parkins, Elliott Sharp and Christian Marclay. Official selection of the 2006 Whitney Biennial.
Les Rendez-vous d'Anna
by Chantal Akerman, 1978, 126 min >>Thursday 20 July 9pm
A stoical sister-film to Peter Handke's 'The Left Handed Woman' (another nuanced study of a female adrift released the same year), this mesmeric drama from Chantal Akerman filters an intensely personal subject through a distinct structural lens. 'Les Rendez-vous d'Anna' can’t help but come across as autobiographical, since its heroine, played by Aurore Clément is a Belgian filmmaker. Like all of Akerman’s main characters to this point ('Je tu il elle'’s Julie; 'News from Home'’s unseen letter recipient; 'Jeanne Dielman'), Anna does not express her feelings through dialogue but through action or nonaction, or by simply listening to others—her reserve is a protective shell against an alien world. Through Anna’s meetings, whether with a one-night stand, an ex-lover, or her mother, we begin to piece together the details of her life and her profound disconnection from everyone and everything.
Akerman's use of long takes and open spaces delineates the gulf that separates her characters from their environment and from each other. While the atmosphere of anomie may be familiar from countless European art films, it is Akerman's intense emotionality, held desperately in check by her precise camera style, that makes this effort something special. 'Les Rendez-vous d’Anna' is arguably the most incisive, penetrating, and downright mournful examination of the female psyche in Akerman’s catalogue.
The Left-Handed Woman
by Peter Handke, 1978, 115 min >>Wednesday 19 July 9pm
A film about a woman who, for no apparent reason, rejects her husband in favour of a solitary voyage through her own private void. In her house, with her child, the film records a double flight of escape and exploration, her rediscovery of the world, her relocation of body, home and landscape. This emotional labour makes its own economy: silence, an edge of solemnity, an overwhelming painterly grace. Self-effacement is made the paradoxical means of self-discovery, and the film becomes a hymn to a woman's liberating private growth, a moving, deceptively fragile contemplation of a world almost beyond words. THE LEFT-HANDED WOMAN is an understated and unadorned portrayal of a single mother’s quotidian life, comparable in its sensibility to some of the work of Margarethe von Trotta, Helke Sander, and Helma Sanders-Brahms.
“All my life the unapproachability of the world, its incomprehensibility and its inaccessibility, my exclusion from it, has been terribly painful to me. That has been my fundamental problem. Belonging, participating, being involved was so rare that each time it became a great occasion for me, worthy of being recorded.” –Peter Handke
by Werner Schroeter, 1972, 78 min >>Tuesday 11 July 9pm
Shot on a shoestring budget in the middle of the Californian desert, Werner Schroeter's American outing follows in a dreamlike trance the murderous North Star Cult, a small commune of women who have retreated from society and into a string of abandoned buildings along the highway. There they lure men in and sacrifice them. With entrancing desert photographing, and a blend of old pop and blues mixing indiscriminately with opera records, WILLOW SPRINGS is a haunting, bizarre, morbid and at times comical chamber melodrama from one of Germany’s most provocative queer icons.
+ Neurasia - 1969, 38 min
Werner Schroeter’s stark, ritualistic short.
Day of the Idiots
by Werner Schroeter, 1972, 78 min >>Wednesday 19 July 9pm
Carol, a beautiful, young woman, is a damaged soul, desperately seeking the attention of the world around her. She routinely performs eccentric acts in public in an attempt to be noticed, unable to break free of the cold world she feels around her. Her boyfriend doesn't share her same eccentric qualities, being a sensitive, considerate man, who seems to have adjusted well to the social normalities of society. Carol wants him to express his love in some way for her, even attempting to force some display of physical affection. Unable to take the pressure anymore, Carol reports herself as a terrorist to the authorities, seeking some strange form of solace in the asylum.
Werner Schroeter's DAY OF THE IDIOTS is a perplexing and ambiguous piece of filmmaking about a group of deeply damaged women. The key to trying to understand Schroeter's nightmarish study is not take what occurs literally, understanding that much of DAY OF THE IDIOTS seems to be told on a symbolic and allegorical level. While the film is certainly up to many interpretations, Schroeter seems to be using women's struggles as a metaphor for the importance of personal needs, desires, and identity. And while in the construct of the narrative the women are deeply disturbed, on a surrealist level they appear to represent oppression of the individual, with the mental institution being a symbolic representation of the social standards and norms of society. One could also argue that Schroeter's film is a deeply unconventional story about a woman's quest for love, with Carol being driven mad by her boyfriend's lack of expressing his affection. Even the final sequence, when Carol escapes the mental hospital and is free from the oppressive regime she appears aimless, still unable to find what she has always been looking for in 'love'. Death comes in the form of a car accident, offering Carol another way out of her suffering. Even if Schroeter's film is merely an outlandish excuse for him to create a haunting portrait of insanity, DAY OF THE IDIOTS succeeds with flying coloUrs, being a cinematic barrage of suffering and torment. Possibly Werner Schroeter's most challenging film of all, DAY OF THE IDIOTS is a unique cinematic experience that is open to many interpretations.
by Werner Schroeter, 1990, 121 min >>Wednesday 5 July 8.30pm
Based on the the 1971 novel by the Austrian feminist author Ingeborg Bachmann and adapted for the screen by Elfriede Jelinek, 'Malina' stars Isabelle Huppert as an unnamed female writer who finds herself unable to adequately express herself. She is unable to write, unable to communicate, unable to remember, unable to act and interact. Her predicament is reconciling a platonic love for the rational Malina with a consuming desire for the sensual Ivan, which in Schroeter's film becomes a visual and sonic staging of (literally) burning passion and glacial voids that lead to the disintegration of the writer’s identity. The writer's emotional female ego is in perpetual conflict with her rational male alter-ego (Malina) which ultimately obliterates the former, perhaps suggesting that it is only possible to be a writer at the expense of femininity and desire.
Huppert’s performance of exaltation and self-destructive despair is familiar from Schroeter’s repertoire, and so is the film’s nonlinear narrative with its operatic climaxes. With its musical cadences and its mise en scène of ornate mirrors and consuming fires, Schroeter’s Malina is a dizzying and idyosincratic adaptation of Bachmann's investigation into the instability, if not the impossibility, of female subjectivity in a patriarchal world. Despite receiving mixed reviews in Germany, the film won the German Film Award but internationally this sumptuous but difficult film was considered too obscure to win much acclaim.