Review: Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert
- BERLINALE 2023: Margarethe von Trotta’s latest effort struggles to elevate itself from being anything more than a rather outdated upper-class drama
After Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage [+see also:
interview: Marie Kreutzer
interview: Marie Kreutzer
film profile], in Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert [+see also:
interview: Margarethe von Trotta
film profile], Vicky Krieps once again plays the role of a cult female figure – namely, that of the titular Austrian poet and translator. This Berlinale competition title, helmed by veteran director Margarethe von Trotta, focuses in particular on the turbulent relationship between Bachmann and Swiss playwright Max Frisch, beginning with their first encounter in Paris in the summer of 1958. They seem to rapidly fall in love with each other, and the woman soon moves to Zurich to live together with Frisch.
Predictably, the main conflict is triggered by the pair’s different ways of life. Bachmann is a free spirit, an independent woman and surely a more adventurous soul than Frisch, who is conservative, jealous, and in need of peace and quiet to work on his plays, only enjoying the pounding sound of his typewriter.
Unfortunately, the whole viewing experience struggles to elevate this picture from being anything more remarkable than a (stereo)typical upper-class drama. von Trotta’s direction and writing stress Bachmann’s unstoppable desire for freedom – even though we see our lead character seeking it, but still not knowing what it really is for her and, thus, being unable to attain it. Therefore, we see her attempts to find inner peace through more writing, intellectually stimulating encounters (in one scene, for example, Renato Carpientieri as Giuseppe Ungaretti praises her translations of his work), the company of other men (Adolf Opel, played by Tobias Resch, and Hans Werner Henze, portrayed by Basil Eidenbenz) and new travels. Rome, however, is the only place where she feels at home, to the point where she manages to convince Frisch to move with her to the Eternal City.
von Trotta steers clear of judging the real-life figures and their troubled existences, but the way they are portrayed here makes them look like they belong to the endless series of bourgeois characters that have been filling our screens for decades – they are rich, successful and unhappy, even though they have all the means necessary to change their lives at practically any moment. This perhaps doesn’t do justice to Bachmann’s tragic ending, her existential discomfort or her oeuvre, which remains in the background throughout. Generally speaking, more depth in the writing of the two leads could have greatly benefited this picture, which still boasts decent acting performances.
There are some light-hearted touches in the dialogue – for example, in one of her conversations, the poet reveals how the gloominess of both Berlin and Vienna makes her depressed to the point where she doesn’t want to get up out of bed, or some small, impromptu jokes. But some of them are perhaps unintentionally funny, and a bit embarrassing, too. This is the case for the playful looks and the encounter between the poet, Opel and two strangers they have met during their journey to the desert, before indulging in an orgy.
Technically speaking, the work is remarkable, except for a few oversights – for example, we can tell that one of the extras playing an Italian waiter is clearly a foreigner owing to his accent and grammatical mistakes. That being said, Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography is striking, and in particular, the lighting work undertaken to enhance the beauty of the desert sky and the dunes is worthy of praise. André Mergenthaler’s score is also spot-on and, sadly, much more powerful than the images on screen.
Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert was produced by Switzerland’s tellfilm, Austria’s Amour Fou Vienna, Germany’s Heimatfilm and Luxembourg’s Amour Fou Luxembourg. The Match Factory is in charge of the picture’s world sales.
Photogallery 19/02/2023: Berlinale 2023 - Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert
21 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.