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.