Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert unfolds on two temporal levels: on the one hand, we witness the first encounter between the protagonist and Frisch, their toxic relationship and their separation; on the other hand, at the same time, we see the finally free woman, who tries to heal her emotional wounds through a long journey into the desert. The woman and then the writer. Through the woman, the writer emerges. At the Berlinale 2023.
In her works, the famous Austrian writer and poet Ingeborg Bachmann often dealt with sensitive and particularly controversial topics, such as the role of women in the society in which we live, the consequences of war and, more generally, what leads to human suffering. Extremely free, intelligent and non-conformist, the author has often spoken out against certain conventions, without being afraid of being harshly criticised or giving rise to scandal. The director, actress and screenwriter Margarethe von Trotta – one of the leading exponents, together with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff and many others, of the New German Cinema – has always been fascinated by female personalities who became famous for their courage, talent and ideas. Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert, presented in competition at the Berlinale 2023, is simply the result of their encounter.
How, then, did the director from Berlin manage to convey the essence of the writer from Klagenfurt on screen? Simple: by focusing mainly on her private life, her love troubles, her troubled love relationship with the Swiss writer Max Frisch, her desperate desire for freedom and, consequently, on some of the processes that led to some of her most famous writings (including, precisely, the famous speech “The Truth is Bearable for Humankind”).
In Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert, therefore, the writer is played by talented Vicky Krieps, fresh from the worldwide success of Corsage (Marie Kreutzer, 2022). The love story with Frisch (Ronald Zehrfeld) is at the heart of the mise en scène and, at the same time, serves as a pretext to open up a much more complex discourse, concerning in particular the often complicated and layered relationship between victim and executioner.
And so, Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert unfolds on two temporal levels: on the one hand, we witness the first encounter between the protagonist and Frisch, their toxic love relationship and their separation; on the other hand, at the same time, we see the woman finally free, who tries to heal her emotional wounds through a long journey into the desert accompanied by the young Austrian writer and director Adolf Opel (Tobias Resch). The woman and then the writer. Through the woman, the writer emerges.
Similar to the approach taken in Hannah Arendt in 2012, Margarethe von Trotta has thus decided to show us an extremely vulnerable and human Ingeborg Bachmann. An Ingeborg Bachmann madly in love with Rome, who cannot adapt to an overly conservative context, who fights with all her might for what she believes in, who through her personal experiences manages to trace a deep sociological investigation. An undoubtedly interesting approach, this one adopted by the director. And indeed, her protagonist is an undoubtedly well-written and well-characterised figure, who, perhaps, precisely with regard to her profession, would have needed more in-depth study, but who, on the whole, immediately reaches the audience with her marked personality.
In Zurich, where the writer lived for a short time with her partner, everything is grey, everything is perfectly organised, the lighting is predominantly dim and everything conveys a strong sense of claustrophobia. In Rome, as well as during the journey into the desert, on the other hand, the lights are warm, the scenes are predominantly shot outdoors, everything seems to suggest a sort of rebirth (although there is no lack of references to the tragic end of the author, which occurred precisely in Rome, on October 17, 1973). The scars are still evident, the road ahead is long. And in Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert it immediately also becomes the road of many other women, who every day fight hard to be deservedly free, deservedly happy.
Original title: Ingeborg Bachmann – Reise in die Wüste
Directed by: Margarethe von Trotta
Country/year: Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg / 2023
Running time: 110’
Genre: biographical, drama
Cast: Vicky Krieps, Ronald Zehrfeld, Tobias Samuel Resch, Basil Eidenbenz, Luna Wedler, Marc Limpach, Renato Carpentieri, Katharina Schmalenberg, Nickel Bösenberg, Philip Leonhard Kelz, Joseph Stoisits, Bernd Hölscher, Stefano Bernardin, Roberta Malizia, Martin Vischer, Thomas Wachtler, Helmut Hartl, Tessy Strotz, Elisabeth Chuffart, Martin Wiebel, Sallar Othman, Abudy Ary, Riccardo Angelini, Gregor Burgstaller, Luca Bonamore, Bettina Scheuritzel, Felix Moeller
Screenplay: Margarethe von Trotta
Cinematography: Martin Gschlacht
Produced by: Amour Fou Luxembourg, Amour Fou Vienna, Heimatfilm, Tellfilm