As much as I would like to deny it, I am fond of Germanic lesbian surrealist flicks, especially of the secretive and semiotic yet borderline psychotic sort, especially those directed by butch blonde Aryanness Ulrike Ottinger (Freak Orlando, Joan of Arc of Mongolia); the daredevil dame director who seems to have better taste in women than her fellow male New Wave kraut compatriots Fassbinder, Herzog, and Volker Schlöndorff, and more an imagination than lady auteur filmmakers Margarethe von Trotta and Monika Treut. Recently, I had the pleasure of viewing Ottinger’s audacious alcoholic arthouse flick Bildnis einer Trinkerin. Aller jamais retour (1979) aka Ticket of No Return, a fashion keen surrealist odyssey about one lovely lady’s lunatic drunken antics as she cruises Berlin-Tegel, Germany in search of booze, boobs, and bodacious bustle while dressed to impress (mostly herself) in immoderately chic new romanticist style. Predating the succulent sci-fi fashion of Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky (1982) and the frantic lesbo lunacy of A. Hans Scheirl’s Dandy Dust (1998), Ticket of No Return is a marvelous cinematic passport with a big aesthetic return if you’re looking to see a highly cultivated form of cinematic degeneracy. Opening with the following narration, Ticket of No Return only gets more incoherent as it develops: “... She, a woman of exquisite beauty, of classical dignity and harmonious Raphaelesque proportions, a woman, created like no other to be Medea, Madonna, Beatrice, Iphigenia, Aspasia, decided one sunny winter day to leave La Rotonda...” Starring Tabea Blumenschein – who previously co-directed Laokoon & Söhne (Laokoon & Sons), Die Betörung der blauen Matrosen (The Enchantment of the Blue Sailors) and Madame X – Eine absolute Herrscherin (Madame X: An Absolute Ruler) with Ottinger and would later star in her work Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse (Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press) – Ticket of No Return is a work that is more than easy on the eyes due to its beauteous, if often belligerent and balmy, lead actress. Also featuring appearances from such great German New Wave actors as Magdalena Montezuma, Kurt Raab, Volker Spengler, Eddie Constantine, Günter Meisner, Nina Hagen, and Paul Glauer (one of the taller merry midgets from Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small), Ticket of No Return is a film that will interest any serious fan of post-WW2 German cinema, even if you’re not a lesbian or alcoholic.
Seemingly an esoteric artsy fartsy cinematic essay campaigning for the acceptance of debauched alcoholism of the active sightseeing sort, Ticket of No Return is a film that will not only discombobulate most viewers with its heterodox fidelity for booze and lilly-licker hermeticism, but also its unequivocally avant-garde nonlinear structure. Although unmistakably female in appearance and in fashion sense, “She” is a stoic yet smashed street warrior with a proclivity towards older proletarian women, as expressed with her relatively unsuccessful bath and sleepover with a considerably less attractive and seemingly more mature lady. In fact, aside from a monotone chorus trio of statistic and fact spouting ladies in futuristic yet mundane grey flight attendant outfits named “Social Question” (Magdalena Montezuma), “Accurate Statistics” (Orpha Termin), and “Common Sense” (Monika von Cube), “She” never has any sort of steady esprit de corps, but instead merely meanders around like a perennial wandering Jew that is deracinated from all land and all human company. Of course, Ms. She doesn’t exactly need friends as she has no problem finding formidable fun, which includes – aside from her delightful drunken buffoonery – a not-exactly-high-wire balancing act and riding on the hood of a daredevil driver’s stunt into a wall-on-fire. Fitting somewhere in between Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) minus the nostalgia and Werner Herzog’s early realist-surrealist masterpiece Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) in terms of narrative (or lack thereof) and its ostensibly absurdist aesthetic, yet a work of undeniable idiosyncrasy all of its own, Ticket of No Return is one of those rare works that reminds the viewer that the artistic medium of film is not exactly as limited and played-out as latest American ‘indy’ film would leave us to believe.
Ultimately, I think the strangely delectable she-devil anti-heroess of Ticket of No Return is sort of what Marcello Mastroianni is to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 ½ (1963), as a sort of vivid express of Ulrike Ottinger’s ideal alter-ego; a lady of stunning beauty with an exquisite fashion sense (which the director certainly lacks), but also aloof, venturesome, and wholly autonomous (fitting more in tune with the lady auteur’s predilections, at least as an artist). Of course, she’s ‘inner self’ and butch doppelgänger – a leather-clad man-boy akin to the unsavory fellows featured in Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964) and William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) – reminds her that despite how beautiful and stylish she is on the outside and no matter how shitfaced she is, an instinctive masculinity consumes her soul. Personally, I cannot think of anything more unappealing in a prospective lover from the fairer sex than an aggressive alcoholic with an acute case of muteness yet with the help of Ottinger’s curious yet calculating direction and the films fashion designer, Tabea Blumenschein is nothing short of seductive as “she,” even if she seems like she might bite. Always climbing to a literal and figurative stairway to some sort intangible heaven of sorts, “she” is inevitably lost in a human storm of metropolitan lunacy and absurdity. Indubitably, a semi-autobiographical cinematic work of the decisively obscured and transcendental sort, not unlike works by fellow queer kraut auteur filmmakers Werner Schroeter (Day of the Idiots, Malina) and Rosa von Praunheim (A Virus Knows no Morals, Anita: Dances of Vice), Ticket of No Return is a one-way ticket to somewhere in between lesbian life-everlasting and limbo in the lower world.