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BERLINALE 2023 Competition

Margarethe von Trotta • Director of Ingeborg Bachmann - Journey into the Desert

“I can’t stand constant sunny dispositions”


- BERLINALE 2023: The seasoned director tells us about her fascination with treading the fine line between Ingeborg Bachmann’s gloomy persona and her more charming one

Margarethe von Trotta • Director of Ingeborg Bachmann - Journey into the Desert

“The truth is reasonable for men,” Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann famously once said. In Margarethe von Trotta’s non-linear biopic Ingeborg Bachmann - Journey into the Desert [+see also:
film review
interview: Margarethe von Trotta
film profile
, screening in competition at the Berlinale, she has to face her own truth: that her love for Swiss playwright Max Frisch is not only destined to fail miserably, but also that it will destroy her in more ways than just having her heart broken. It will take from her the things that she truly owns and needs: words and the ability to coin them in her remarkable writing. Her quest to regain what has been lost will take her deep into the heart of the desert.

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Cineuropa: What is your oldest memory of Ingeborg Bachmann?
Margarethe von Trotta: Her poems; we read them at school. I read a lot of poetry back then, including Georg Trakl and Hermann Hesse. But then again, you have to spend some time figuring out which poet is really important to you. And Bachmann became more and more important over time.

What was it about her that appealed to you?
It’s not like I read Ingeborg Bachmann every morning when I got up. But she has always accompanied me. There are voice recordings of her in which she talked in a very soft-spoken, almost uncertain way. That was one of the things that moved me about her. I didn't feel confident back then either. It was impressive that someone who writes such great poetry would be so hesitant and almost insecure in real life.

Did you ever get to meet her?
I met her at Hans Werner Henze's shortly before she died. By then, she was already in pretty bad shape. We didn't expect to see her there, but it was a nice surprise. I didn't really get to talk to her, because it was always the men talking. Them dominating the conversation was how things were back then.

Your lead actress, Vicky Krieps, talked about this gloom in which Bachmann dwelled. How did you handle that sentiment?
I wouldn't have been so attracted to her story otherwise. I can’t stand constant sunny dispositions. It's precisely this contradiction, where she can be very serious and stern one minute, and the next she suddenly breaks into this big smile and completely knocks you off your feet, that appealed to me. I was looking for this contrast, and I found it immediately in Vicky Krieps.

The film is also called Journey into the Desert. There are these utopian moments that are determined by free love and the breaking of conventions. How important were those to you?
Adolf Opel describes them in his book. I wouldn't have invented them myself, because it would have seemed a bit forced to me. The sudden freedom in the wilderness, so to speak. But it really did happen, and she described it in Der Fall Franza. It is interesting to connect this freedom with the desert because the desert is not only free and it is not only beautiful, but it can also be cruel. We were lucky during the shoot that there was a sandstorm that day, so we managed to get some nice footage. The weather helped us despite our intention.

Do you already have the next woman in mind about whom you want to make a film?
The curious thing is that people always think I'm looking for them myself, but they always come to me from an external source. Bachmann was suggested by a Swiss producer. I, however, was able to choose which time period I wanted to focus on. I could have done something about Paul Celan or Hans Werner Henze, but I considered Max Frisch and this attempt at true love, although she says from the beginning that she knew that this was a sentiment not meant for her, the most exciting idea.

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