Feb 28, 2013


Being literally beaten and urinated on as a child by other children, growing up in a defeated nation that had been reduced to ruins and rubble, blaming himself for the suicide of his Polish grandma (when he was only 13-year-old) and later his teenage male lover, the death of his boyfriend Marcello from AIDS, losing his movie muse Magdalena Montezuma at the height of his film career to cancer (which he would inevitably lose a battle to later in his life), facing public ridicule by ex-lovers (i.e. Rosa von Praunheim), and being relatively rejected in his homeland for being too much of an “art cunt,” Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Palermo oder Wolfsburg) – the most decidedly dandy and exceedingly eccentric filmmaker of the German New Wave – was certainly a terribly tortured man, which he made no lie of considering he is well known for wearing signature all-black outfits throughout his entire life, so naturally his cinematic autobiography and penultimate work (This Night (2008) aka Nuit de chien being his final film), Deux (2002) aka Two, is a hyper hysterical and harrowing yet hypnotic cinematic work that made me seriously wonder whether or not the filmmaker’s premature death at the age of 65 was not for the best because at least now we know he no longer suffers. A daringly discordant, deranging, debasing and esoteric movie memoir with two transexualized female protagonists, identical twin sisters (both played by Isabelle Huppert, who the director wrote the roles specifically for), Deux would mark Schroeter’s return to film after over a decade break in what is seemingly his most impenetrable and personal work; a work of horrific high-camp grotesquery in the spirit of one of the director’s favorite poetic novels Les Chants de Maldoror aka The Songs of Maldoror written by the mysterious Uruguayan-born French poet who went by the pseudonym Comte de Lautréamont (real name Isidore Lucien Ducasse). On top of featuring off-screen narration of verses from literary libertine de Lautréamont's iconoclastic and quasi-satanic proto-surrealist novel by an unseen male narrator, Deux features incessant images of old school sailors that would substitute for Schroeter’s aborted dream film project of cinematically adapting French fag/criminal writer Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest (1953), which would end in treachery when the director’s friend, Rainer Werner Fassbinder – who did not think much of the work, apparently describing it as a, "third-rate police story" – ended up directing it, thus souring the two filmmakers' friendship. Featuring obfuscated anecdotes from Schroeter’s own life (which is a mystery in and of itself), including the self-slaughter of his lover via hanging, Deux is a decisively deranged and daunting celluloid daydream where one has the feeling that the filmmaker told himself throughout the production of the work, “It's my film and I can cry if I want to.”

 Inverting the sex of the characters for Deux, Schroeter seemingly follows in the footsteps of his ill-fated friend Fassbinder’s film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) aka Die Bitteren Tränen der Petra von Kant – a work based on the auter’s failed romantic relationship with black Bavarian Günther Kaufmann, except with lesbians substituting for gay men – but the decidedly decadent auteur has never made a lie about the fact that his films are byproducts of his failed love affairs and if it were not for the fact that he was a singular filmmaker whose cinematic career is unparalleled, one would assume he had a failed life, at least judging by his celluloid autobiography; a work riddled with sex, death, and self-destruction of the cultivated kitschy and sometimes tragicomedic sort. Centering around two identical twins separated at birth who know of neither's existence, Deux seems to be a combination of Poe-esque ‘fear of the doppelgänger’ and Jungian ideas like the shadow aspect (unconscious aspect of the personality that the conscious ego does not recognize) and the anima (feminine inner personality in the unconscious of the male, which Schroeter seemed rather conscious of), thus the murderous conclusion acts as a sort of complete idiosyncratic “individuation.” The fact that both of the twins, Magdalena and Maria (both played by Huppert), never physically age (whether playing a 5-year-old or a 50-year-old version of the character) and that the events in their lives become quite indistinguishable and all the more indecipherable as the film progresses only make it all more clear that Deux is a torrid trip throughout Schroeter’s totally tortured and terrified unconscious and oftentimes irrational mind, thus making him more of a ‘German’ filmmaker than he would ever want to admit, at least in the dark romantic sense where the auteur gazes into the abyss and the abyss gazes back. Like the twins of sin, sordidness, and sorrow, their seemingly manic mother Anna (Bulle Ogier), who likely fornicated with a sailor and spawned two heirs that were irreparably severed and brought up by separate adoptive families, longs for maternal love and a lasting romantic relationship (their failure with both seems interconnected), but all three ladies are accursed matrons of misery and isolation-based misanthropy with a propensity for damningly destructive love affairs and emotional and physical violence. Maria is the more extroverted of the two as someone who actively pursues ‘revolutionary’ politics and her love of music via debauched opera and cabaret, thus symbolizing Schroeter’s identity as an artist (or his self-created ‘persona’) while Magdalena – a successful school girl turned low-spirited lesbian with a disdain for men – is the director (who, indeed, like the character, attended international boarding schools) as his truest and most unflatteringly personal self, so naturally when the two finally collide physically at the conclusion through their intrinsic metaphysical bond, there are deplorable, if not entirely inevitable consequences. That ‘Magdalena’ is Schroeter’s most personal self becomes all the more clear with the cinematic recreation of the filmmaker’s tragic real-life coming-of-age love affair, which the director described as follows in the documentary Mondo Lux : The Visual Universe of Werner Schroeter (2011) directed by Elfi Mikesch (cinematographer of Deux), “Siegfried was the first man I really loved, but he hanged himself. He was 16, and I was 13 or 14.” Despite the rather ambiguous conclusion (as well as the film as a whole) of Deux, Werner Schroeter will undoubtedly be remembered as the 'artist' (outside persona), albeit one whose highly inner and intimate yet fuddled blood and tears stain every frame he ever shot of celluloid. Deux is indubitably Schroeter at the height of his hyper hermetic yet particularly personalized artistry in a considerably compelling and compulsively concocted celluloid work of daunting and deranging fragmentation where byproducts of love and death act as a fierce form of all-consuming cognitive dissonance and despair, thus it should be no surprise that the filmmaker once also stated in Mondo Lux, “harmony does not exist unless you work hard to create it.” 

Featuring hundreds of distinct tableaux ranging from quite literally killer kitsch, including Isabelle Huppert dressed in Soviet regalia standing on a battlefield with hundreds of dead naked corpses, to gross-out absurdity, including Huppert being violently attacked by a fox, coupled with a meticulously dismembered (non)narrative that is intentionally impossible to follow in terms of both chronology (skipping in between the years 2000, 1955, 1977, 1963, 1993, 1981, etc. without warning or reason) and plot, Deux makes for Werner Schroeter’s celluloid magnum opus of melancholy in the macabre tradition of the Grand Guignol and German romanticism, albeit in a highly deracinated, dissonance-driven form. A work of cultivated and complex despair and dispiriting decay that makes concessions to no one except Werner Schroeter himself, Deux, a depiction of debilitating delirium in celluloid form, is the thing that dead dreams are made of. A cinematic work I cannot even recommend to the most courageous of cinephiles, Deux is a totally trying test in terror and torment sprinkled with Schroeter’s apparent disdain for the Zionist state of Israel and goofy Japanese tourists, love of Dutch painters like Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh, antinatalism, radical politics and sex, the semen of seamen, megalomaniacal divas, and lifelong obsession with opera. With the debauched, deadbeat mother featured in Deux telling someone on a public telephone that, “We must murder all pregnant women…We must kill all the children before they’re born. We must take this hunt to all the world. We must! We Must!,” in a most heated, hysterical, and flagrantly fanatical fashion, one can only guess the source of Schroeter’s reckless weltschmerz, but considering he was born 7 April 1945 – literally a month and a day before Germany’s unconditional surrender during the Second World War – thus literally coming of age in apocalyptic Teutonic year zero, it is no surprise that his cinematic swansong, This Night (2008) aka Nuit de chien, is about the death of a nation and a people in one night. And so it would follow that Schroeter became a rootless cosmopolitan of sorts, but as Deux demonstrates, there is no getting away from home, no matter where one runs. Who knows, maybe if Germany had won the war, Schroeter might have grown up to be a hyper heterosexual following in the footsteps of Veit Harlan – a true purveyor of aristocratic National Socialist kitsch – but instead he realized what his friend Fassbinder prophesied as having, “a place in the history of film that I would describe in literature as somewhere between Novalis, Lautréamont, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline," which is no small accomplishment, with Deux being his “Les Chants de Maldoror”; an inexplicable and uncategorizable work of aesthetic anarchy and unwavering idiosyncrasy that will prove to perplex both cinephiles and auteur filmmakers for generations to come. 

-Ty E

No comments: