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by Maria Lassnig

grade: 7.5

Due to the extreme care with which it was realised, Couples, by Austrian painter Maria Lassnig, looks like a very mature work, where animation, painting, photography and live action cinema come together to create a short but significant film, merging into one another in perfect harmony.

A man, a woman

Unmistakable is the hand of the famous Austrian painter Maria Lassnig. Just as unmistakable are her abstract figures, her mutant bodies and her subjects, often controversial but very, very topical. And if the artist has established herself over the years above all in the field of painting, her contribution in the field of film is also noteworthy, thanks to the making of numerous short films – many of them animated – as perfect transpositions of her own paintings on the big screen. And if we think of a work such as Couples (1972), made once the author had moved to the United States, we realise how it contains within it the true poetic and pictorial essence of her entire oeuvre.

In this film, then, Lassnig continues her experience in the world of animation already begun with Selfportrait (1971), using her own paintings to narrate the typical evolution of a relationship. Or, it would be better to say, of a beginning relationship, in which the desire for a shared life is only part of the woman’s universe, while the man, on the contrary, seems to desire only a sexual approach, despite what he himself said after the first date.

And so, at the opening of Couples, man and woman only appear to us almost as indistinct blobs, but which – with a few elementary stop-motion movements – render well the idea of a sexual intercourse in progress. Then, immediately, the figures become more distinct, the features more pronounced and, finally, we are given to hear the first, essential and elementary dialogues. Everything, from beginning to end, develops according to a script that we have seen over and over again: a man and a woman meet. The man then goes on to call the woman, claiming, following her remonstrance, that he wants a relationship at all costs. Then, suddenly, after an initial sexual intercourse, the music changes: the woman asks for cuddles and attention that the man does not want to give. Until the moment when the same man – with the same black-and-white images we saw in the first minutes and which see him approaching a telephone booth – leaves his partner with a simple phone call, stating that he doesn’t feel ready for a relationship.

A point of view, this of Maria Lassnig, more than cynical, decidedly disenchanted, in which the figure of the woman, even if initially suffering and emotional, always seems the strongest. And in Couples, too, a series of questions concerning one’s own identity, one’s own desires, are put in the spotlight. And, in this regard, the bodies that, in the course of the mise en scène, change shape and colour, alternating with images of old photographs and scenes shot in live action, mirror an important inner change, a growth and many steps towards a new self-consciousness. Despite the moments when there seems to be no solution. And in spite of the close-up of a man whose eyes are covered by a black band, a sign that the words he pronounces may be the same as those of many other human beings, in a script that keeps repeating itself ad infinitum.

For this and for the extreme care with which it has been realised, Couples is a very mature work, where animation, painting, photography and live action cinema come together to make a short but significant work, merging into one another in perfect harmony.

Original title: Couples
Directed by: Maria Lassnig
Country/year:Austria, USA / 1972
Running time: 9’
Genre: animation, experimental
Screenplay: Maria Lassnig
Cinematography: Maria Lassnig
Produced by: Maria Lassnig

Info: the page of Couples on iMDb; the page of Couples on the website of the Sixpack Film