Mar 11, 2013

Malina




If I have noticed any striking similarities in personalities between self-described ‘feminists,’ it is that the source of their oftentimes hysterical hatred of men is the result of an impenetrable hatred, fear, anxiety, and all-encompassing disdain for their daddy and such is certainly the case regarding Malina (1991) directed by Werner Schroeter – a celluloid psychodrama based on an autobiographical novel of the same name written by tragic Austrian author/poetess and proto-feminist Ingeborg Bachmann – that depicts the mental disintegration of an intrinsically incapacitated, albeit successful, woman who, in between dividing her time among two very contradictory men, is failing at attempting to write a novel she will inevitably never finish. Based on a screenplay written by Austrian feminist-Marxist playwright/novelist Elfriede Jelinek – a woman whose Jewish chemist father provided his services to the Third Reich, thus probably contributing to her dubious relationships with men throughout her life – that was adapted from Bachmann's sole novel Malina (1971), Schroeter’s less than literal cinematic adaption Malina, despite being the first and only film he did not write/co-write the screenplay for, would prove to be denounced as misogynist by feminists for its less than flattering, if not exceedingly empathetic, depiction of a woman in panic on the verge of subconscious suicide, as they felt that the film, as written by Michelle Langford in her work Allegorical Images: Tableau, Time and Gesture in the Cinema of Werner Schroeter (2006), "had reduced a figure of feminist emancipation to a mere stereotype of an intellectual woman suffering a pathological disorder." Like the unnamed character of the film Malina, Bachmann would go out in a literal blaze of (un)glory after apparently unintentionally setting her apartment on fire via a lit cigarette (or so the police assume), which resulted in a three week hospital stay that ended in her demise (some suspect it was the result of drug withdrawal of an undetermined sort as she was a compulsive pill-popper), thus, not unlike Sylvia Plath, earning martyr status among depressed feminist girls everywhere looking for a hero with a sharp intellect and a sad sob story of the seemingly mystifying kind. While the female protagonist of Malina works on a novel with the same name as the one Bachmann was working on before her death, audacious auteur Schroeter, in his typically idiosyncratic high-camp and operatic fashion, created a work that delicately, if not decidedly decadently, deconstructed the film’s source material and ultimately sired something intrinsically cinematic all of his own that transcends whatever message the source material may have conveyed and that was further accentuated via an avant-garde musical score by Italian composer Giacomo Manzoni Utilizing aesthetic and thematic techniques he introduced with Day of the Idiots (1981) aka Tag der Idioten and would subsequently develop to the furthermost degree with his exceedingly eccentric and esoteric 'biopic' Deux (2002), Schroeter explores the dichotmous nature of human nature (i.e. male versus female, rationality versus irrationality, love versus hatred, etc.) with Malina, a cinematic work that can be best summed up in its female lead protagonists personal confession, “I’ve never been happy, but I have seen beauty.”



The female protagonist (played by Isabelle Huppert) of Malina has some serious problems that revolve around her father (or "vater" as depicted by Fritz Schediwy) that go all the way back to her childhood as depicted in the first scene in the film when the character’s papa throws her off of a roof, but luckily her introverted and intellectual beau “Malina” (Mathieu Carrière, star of Young Törless (1966) and Egon Schiele – Exzess und Bestrafung (1980)) – a seemingly sexually sterile fellow with degenerated gray hair that seems to have nil sexual passion nor potency – is there not only to taunt, teach, and tease, but also to comfort her in a completely curious way with his dry wit and dandy persuasion. Although a relatively successful Wittgensteinian scholar and novelist, the protagonist of Malina is a woman on the verge of a total mental breakdown and who has lost touch with her senses and reality, so much so that she has to consciously tell herself, “I must breathe, I must breathe,” a number of times throughout the film. Of course, being a phantom-like being who appears during the protagonist's daunting delirious daydreams and nightmares, the sexually ambiguously named Malina does not really seem to be her live-in boyfriend, but her Jungian animus (the word “animus” even being literally used at one point in the film during an extra erotic tableau) – the unconscious of the female that is expressed as a masculine inner personality. As a male-minded intellectual who has all but completely sacrificed her innate femininity for fame and prestige among a mainly male-dominated field – a clearly deep-seated decision inspired by her rejection by a father she cannot remember, but appears in various sinister surrealist forms and guises – the protagonist is overwhelmed by Malina’s particularly pedantic and rather rational persona. Only in the masculine Ivan (Can Togay) – a father of young children who inspires fiery passions of the flesh in the seemingly frigid proto-feminist – does the protagonist find her womanhood and a flame to light her dormant female desire, but, like her father, Malina always seems to pop up and throw her further and further into existentialist crisis in a magnificent ménage à trios of misery that is largely of the mind or as the loony lady states herself, “Its always war…A never-ending war.” In one especially telling scene, the protagonist states to her phantasmagoric papa, “Father! This time you’ll listen to me!...Have you nothing to say?...I know you…He’s no father, he’s my murderer!,” while in the same scene, the seemingly deranged daddy of death goes from wearing a judge's robe to a bloody butcher’s apron to a Nazi uniform, thus personifying everything he was to her at one – her judge, executioner, and very literal Nazi (seeing as Bachmann was Austrian, it is likely her real father was a nazi, thus passing on the guilt to his daughter). In a number of scenes, the protagonist’s child self is murdered by her father, but neither she nor her mother succeed in saving the little girl, thus making for an audacious allegory for the annihilation of her femininity during her critical early childhood years and a fallen femininity that she pathologically tries to ‘pick up the pieces’ of and revisit via her fleeting romance with Ivan and her confrontations with her father, but, in the end, she comes to terms with the fact that her fecundity is forever forlorn.



Towards the conclusion of Malina, the female protagonist states, “I’ll know how a condemned man feels,” and, indeed, she does as a sort of female Nietzsche and ill-fated ‘woman within’ who suffers from an impenetrable introversion and an animosity-stirring animus who has so thoroughly taken over her personality that she can no longer differentiate between her ‘true self’ and the foreboding inner male that lives inside of her, hence the inevitable break in her personality and foreordained self-obliteration. Essentially, an inverse of Werner Schroeter himself – an effeminate homosexual and dandy, neo-Uranian – Isabelle Huppert’s character in Malina is certainly someone the director could identify as his "anima" of sorts, hence why the director probably decided to cast the actress to depict himself for his avant-garde autobiographical film Deux (2002), which would be the auteur filmmaker’s first film in over a decade after adapting the Bachmann novel. Although dividing film critics and most viewers and failing to win when it was entered into the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, Malina managed to win the German Film Award in Gold. Sort of like a Jungian adaptation of Repulsion (1965) as depicted from inside of the mentally perturbed female protagonist's menacing mind, albeit of the failed feminist flavor and minus the man killings, Malina is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious attempts at deconstructing the darkest abysses of the female psyche, thereupon making the cinematic work a celluloid goldmine for psychoanalysts, obsessive cinephiles, and lapsed feminist/born-again females alike, but will probably prove to be distressing to humorless feminazis, naïve women studies majors, Ingeborg Bachmann purists, and those with a general disdain for anything cinematically abstract. During the beginning of Malina, Huppert’s character states quite hysterically, “What quirk of fate brought me to this? It can’t be a stranger. It mustn’t be for no reason. It would be fraud. It mustn’t be true,” which is sort of how I felt after first viewing the film a couple years ago, but like most of Werner Schroeter's oeuvre, I cannot help but come back and revisit the cinematic work and get lost in a visual universe where beauty and brutality have found common ground amongst controlled chaos.



-Ty E

3 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Sylvia Plath (as the bird was in 1950 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously, which is long since dead, unfortunately).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

It was that British bastard Ted Hughes who caused Sylvia to commit suicide in 1963, Americans should NEVER waste their time with British scum, if Sylvia had never come to Britain she`d probably still be alive today ! ! !, the British always ruin and spoil everything.

Anonymous said...

"If I have noticed any striking similarities in personalities between self-described ‘feminists,’ it is that the source of their oftentimes hysterical hatred of men is the result of an impenetrable hatred, fear, anxiety, and all-encompassing disdain for their daddy"

that's a pretty audacious psychological generalization...

since i'm pretty sure you haven't conducted or researched any scientifically valid, evidence-based studies to verify your theory, one can only imagine its foundations lie in your own irrational prejudices...

god knows the origins of those... perhaps i should make a radical and cruel assumption in regards to that...

thanks for having the courage to 'keep it real' doc...