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MUTZENBACHER

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by Ruth Beckermann

grade: 8

The room is very spacious, the sofa decidedly comfortable, the topics dealt with often excessively controversial. But that is precisely the point of Mutzenbacher: to allow everyone to identify with those who are usually strongly judged, feeling vulnerable in turn and trying to understand dynamics that are anything but simple. At the Berlinale 2022.

Je suis Josefine

Within a decidedly good selection full of nice surprises, the great Ruth Beckermann could not be missing at the Berlinale 2022. In the wake of the #metoo, therefore, the famous Viennese filmmaker has had her say on the matter by staging a very singular documentary that will give rise to numerous debates. This is Mutzenbacher, presented at the Berlinale 2022 in the Encounters section. But what is it specifically about?

In 1906, the book Josefine Mutzenbacher: oder Die Geschichte einer Wienerischen Dirne von ihr selbst erzählt was published anonymously. It is a highly erotic novel, in which the author recounts her early youthful experiences. Ruth Beckermann, therefore, organised casting calls to make a film based on the aforementioned book. Only men between the ages of 16 and 99 are to audition and no acting experience is required. A large room with a pink sofa in the middle will be the location where the auditions will take place. Each of the participants will have to read a passage from the book.

In Mutzenbacher, therefore, Ruth Beckermann opens a highly complex discourse. Dialoguing with the candidates, the director will ask them questions at the end of the reading and each of them – now relaxed, now decidedly embarrassed – will have their say on the matter and recount some personal experiences. How is a young woman’s sexuality considered by today’s society? Are we all ready to judge or, on the contrary, do we try to identify with the protagonist?

A direct and essential direction proved, therefore, to be the winning solution to give life to an ensemble documentary, which also offers the audience a lot of food for thought. A documentary in which men have their say, in which there is no trace of female presence, except, of course, for the text written by the author and the voice of the director, who, however, never appears in front of the camera.

Mutzenbacher, then, is an ironic, extremely clever and never banal work. A work in which the close-ups of the protagonists reveal a directorial approach that is close to them, but which, at the same time, also maintains the necessary distance to observe what is happening in front of the camera. Ruth Beckermann does not want to judge and makes sure that each of the candidates can feel at ease. Even when they have to recite a dialogue together with someone else or have to play a female role. The room is very spacious, the sofa decidedly comfortable, the topics discussed often excessively controversial. But that is precisely the point of the work: to allow everyone to identify with someone who is usually strongly judged, feeling vulnerable in turn and trying to understand dynamics that are anything but simple. From simple eroticism we move on to a broader discourse on childhood abuse and immediately things are observed from a different perspective. Ruth Beckermann once again has struck the right note. Her Mutzenbacher is certainly a documentary that will make people think and talk a lot.

Original title: Mutzenbacher
Directed by: Ruth Beckermann
Country/year: Austria / 2022
Running time: 100’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Ruth Beckermann, Claus Philipp
Cinematography: Johannes Hammel
Produced by: Ruth Beckermann Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Mutzenbacher on the website of the Berlinale; the page of Mutzenbacher on the website of the Austrian Film Commission; the page of Mutzenbacher on iMDb; the page of Mutzenbacher on the website of the Österreichisches Filminstitut