In Berlin, “She”—the only name the film gives her—wanders on a drunken binge and in an alcoholic stupor in Bildnis einer Trinkerin. Aller jamais retour (Portrait of a Female Drunkard. Ticket of No Return), at its best a remarkable film from West Germany written, directed and cinematographed by Ulrike Ottinger. She is richly, elegantly dressed and statuesque, and mute as in a dream, although there is attached to this no sense of handicap; She is “complete” as is. The captivating encounters and episodes through which She moves generate a swirl of Surrealism and zaniness. Unless one is New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin, Ottinger’s lovely piece is exceptionally hard to resist. One opens one’s eyes and welcoming arms to it.
Why does She drink? We may infer that she is attempting to blur the coldness and harshness of the non-egalitarian nature of West Germany’s capitalistic system. In a wonderful shot, seeking exit from the airport terminal, She finds herself face-to-face with a working-class woman who is washing the glass barrier that stands between them; She subsequently “adopts” as her companion a homeless woman pushing her worldly belongings in a shopping cart—a shabbily dressed sister who is as taken up with alcohol as she. She herself suddenly becomes the secretary-receptionist for a business firm; her boss castigates her for drinking the booze intended for his clients. Social and economic injustice is reason enough to hit the cognac.
The film becomes somewhat attenuated and repetitious, taxing the genuine smile it has put on our face, but concludes with a stunning image of She stumbling through a crystal corridor that multiplies her image in bits and pieces, brilliantly evoking the fractured identity that is the culmination of living in a capitalistic society which does its best to divide those who should be sharing a mutually supportive existence. (Breaking or broken glass is a motif throughout the film.) One cannot be oneself in such a world, because one needs others to be oneself: equal others.
Some compare Ottinger’s film to works by Fassbinder, but, early on, there is more the spirit—and the ubiquitous glass—of Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), and thereafter the influence, above all, of Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) kicks in.
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Dennis– I recall you making similar points at Dr. Good’s grand Buffalo home over dinner. In those days we talked of the overly sentimental, perhaps surreal, transcendentalists and their charming nonsense; certainly equations of spiritualism with the scent of new age at the time. But more to the point vis-a-vis this film, Capitalism is the Unitarianism of our times (thus another connection to those damn transcendentalists!), though the first film to document Occupy Wall Street may make a better case for taking it down to size, though not entirely, or–at least–creating new hybrid economic world orders where people–all people are part of the equation in non-hegimonic terms. Please drop me an email. Old times.