That both the lives of Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan ended tragically and separately adds a significant poignancy to the pair’s postwar correspondence. Fed through years of creative antagonisms, personal recriminations and persistent rivalries, the poets’ love letters articulate an experience particular to central Europe in the 20th century – the precarious space described by Heidegger, the countries caught in the pincers of untrammelled modernity, and the Jewish people at once reclaiming, reconciling and remembering the horrors of the Holocaust.
Director Ruth Beckermann fuses together a trained, documentary sensibility and a scripted reconstruction of the poets’ intellectual and emotional sparring. Two actors, played by Anja Plaschg and Laurence Jupp, verbalise, interpret and wrestle with the poets’ decades-long dialogue. Jupp is actorly, confident and good-humoured; Plaschg is raw, emotive and sombrely thoughtful. Each plays two parts: poet and actor. Beckermann’s direction emphasises physical proximity and intimacy as a way for the actors to transcend their roles: Bachmann and Celan’s written relationship is prefaced by a brief love affair, never rekindled; Plaschg and Jupp’s relationship is forged only in the intense immediacy of the recording studio, a professional and artistic connection unconsummated. The camera imposes itself on the actors’ faces, capturing the subtleties of expression as each begins to embody the poets’ experience – that European experience – coloured by their own fluctuating and spontaneous frissons. At one point, Plaschg reads aloud Bachmann’s angst as “collapsing under the burdens”. This seems right: the aesthetics of horror, the age of rupture, discontinuity and shock.
But what can be concluded from Beckermann’s attempt to unveil the process of recording poetic transcripts, of rearticulating the past? The direction is stylish, if uninspiring; the acting is solid, if unintriguing. The premise does not convince – that we should compare the lives of Bachmann and Celan to those of a distorted Plaschg and Jupp. The European experience maintains, perhaps, but temporality is linear, not universal, and it is glib for the film to imply that Bachmann, Celan, Plaschg and Jupp can necessarily speak to one another. This may be a glorified radio play, or a curio of literary scholarship, but there is little to suggest in the material a 90-minute feature film.
Die Geträumten (The Dreamed Ones) is released in select cinemas on 2nd December 2016.
Watch the trailer for Die Geträumten (The Dreamed Ones) here: