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by Maria Lassnig

grade: 7.5

In just five minutes, Maria Lassnig has managed to represent her complete poetics in her Selfportrait, making a short film that rightfully ranks as one of her most intimate, personal and representative works, with an interesting and essential stop-motion animation.

One face, a thousand faces

Austrian painter Maria Lassnig has often been interested in the world of the seventh art during her long and prolific career. And if, already in 1970, she had attempted to tell the story through images of sinuous female figures in Baroque Statues, and then made it even more abstract in 1971 with Iris, here she is, in the same year, entering the world of animation and – to be precise – the world of stop-motion animation with her Selfportrait. A field, this one, in which the artist will finally find her own place in the world of cinema, thanks to the use of her own drawings and paintings, all rigorously focused on human figures, on bodies, on faces that are constantly changing, depending on the emotions felt and on external events.

Already in this Selfportrait, in fact, there are all the typical issues of Lassnig’s poetics. Here, as in all her works, the human body is considered as a prison from which to escape as quickly as possible. And it is here that the inner of the director herself – who, in this intimate and personal work of hers, stages a strongly painful and sorrowful self-portrait – seems to us more alive and pulsating than ever, in her desperate attempts to free herself from her narrow body.

What we see in Selfportrait is, then, Lassnig’s self-portrait in the foreground, which, from time to time, takes on different shapes, always different aspects, now deforming itself as if it were made of rubber, now taking on the features of Greta Garbo, Bette Davis or even the artist’s deceased mother, while the director herself narrates in voice over. But will it really be so easy to get rid of this cumbersome involucre? The world in which the woman lives, in fact, constantly seems to want to work against her. Just like the prison bars behind which we suddenly see the protagonist herself.

A face, that of the painter, which, inevitably, must, from time to time, wear numerous masks, which, if, on the one hand, seem to help her conform to the most disparate situations, on the other hand, definitely have the effect of further prisons, from which it seems even more difficult to escape.

Little importance, then, seems to be given to interpersonal relationships, as well as to love relationships. The fragility of the protagonist gets the better of everything and, at the same time, a world in which being a woman is more difficult than ever, makes its own. And suddenly, Maria Lassnig’s story becomes the story of numerous other women, in a universal language that celebrates women themselves, so apparently fragile, but so, at the same time, able to rise up, to be reborn, to take on new forms. Depending on the situation they are experiencing. And until the moment when they become, inevitably, a skeleton.

The very style of Lassnig’s drawings sets the stage for this incredible inner strength. Stylised drawings, characterised by essential black lines, with only sporadic patches of colour within them. Drawings that, without useless frills, manage to characterise every single face represented, thanks also to an elementary use of stop motion.

In just five minutes, then, Maria Lassnig represented in Selfportrait her complete poetics, making a short film that rightfully ranks as one of her most intimate, personal and representative works. Together, of course, with the equally famous The Ballad of Maria Lassnig, made in 1992 together with Hubert Sielecki.

Original title: Selfportrait
Directed by: Maria Lassnig
Country/year: Austria, USA / 1971
Running time: 5’
Genre: animation, experimental
Screenplay: Maria Lassnig
Cinematography: Maria Lassnig
Produced by: Maria Lassnig

Info: the page of Selfportrait on the website of the Sixpack Film; the page of Maria Lassnig on