The Misplaced World: Von Trotta splits another woman
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2015: The hardened German actress and director Margarethe von Trotta continues, with ambiguous humour, the theme of the dual woman. Release in Germany: 7 May
The motif may have a unique symbolic resonance in Germany (that was clearly the case with Two Lives [+see also:
film profile] by Georg Maas, German candidate for the Oscar nominations last year)... Still, cinema with a dual woman as its theme is almost a genre by its own right, and one that has brought about some tremendously disturbing works, like Summer Window [+see also:
film profile] by Hendrik Handloegten (2011), the magnificent The Heart Is a Dark Forest by Nicolette Krebitz (2007), where the division occurs in two different ways, and all of Christian Petzold's movies, where it takes the form of a superimposition. With two reconstructions of the lives of famous leading ladies (from Rosa Luxembourg to Hannah Arendt and including Hildegarde von Bingen) or of sisters (Sisters, or the Balance of Happiness, 1979), two not entirely unrelated themes, Margarethe von Trotta herself dabbled in the dual woman genre, in particular in the suggestive I am the Other Woman [+see also:
film profile] (2006, except her muse is not Nina Hoss, as in all of the aforementioned films, rather, it's the even blonder Katja Riemann). In The Misplaced World [+see also:
film profile], screened in Berlin as part of the special screenings, Riemann is not quite the woman affected by the the mirror effect (however...), rather.... (drum roll): her daughter! She's forty years old, lively and youthful, she sings part-time in a jazz bar, and her name is Sophie.
From the outset (a marriage interview that Sophie makes a couple about to take the plunge "sit"), despite the bright colours and the sprightly composition, the atmosphere is disturbing, but with enough charming clumsiness to be just as amusing. For a while the tone of the film remains uncertain and semi bizarre, (the motif of the woman singing alone like a melancholic mermaid, in the hazy light of an old spotlight on a barstage has, in film, come to mean ambiguity in the Lynchian sense), it's part amusing, like a game, as we learn that Sophie's father has located an American singer named Caterina (Barbara Sukowa), who is virtually identical to Evelyn, the mother and spouse recently passed away, and who sings with the same voice. Disturbed, Sophie sinks her couple surprisingly quickly and flys to New-York to meet her mother's clone. Next come scenes of New York society that bring to mind some (Woody Allen-type) ambiance, with a short detour to Indecent Proposal, and Sophie managing to contact Evelyne's double, who turns out to be more of a sister than a mother. Then another mother enters the equation, followed by another father... As Evelyn's secrets are uncovered, the doubles multiply. One thing leading to another, the theme of the joyous family reunion that persists behind all the hidden tragedies diverts attention from the original malaise, dealt with in an expeditious manner that becomes ever more comic because of its irony.
The fact that it would be difficult to say at what point this film, which is initially disturbing, falls into the skillfull comedy of clichés, is where its strength lies. It's probably by that same trick that it remains somewhat unsettling and artificial, at the happy end. With skill, Von Trotta weaves different genres together and plays with the motifs. She decides to connect all of her characters by the deep blue of their eyes. She thinks about Ève, the first woman. She ensures that on both sides of the Atlantic, everyone speaks perfect German, as if it was no big deal, without surprising anyone; She creates an ebony object, something plastic, something nice, something artificial, with a unique mix of humour and solemnity.
(Translated from French)