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by Anja Salomonowitz

grade: 7

Sleeping with a Tiger by Anja Salomonowitz is a complex and layered. extremely rich and sophisticated feature film. A feature film that is never afraid to exaggerate. Just as our beloved Maria Lassnig did in her time. At the Berlinale 2024, Forum section.

An artist, a woman

It is by no means an easy task to recount the life and career of the Carinthian painter Maria Lassnig (1919 – 2014) in pictures. It is not an easy task because, when dealing with a character like her, a classical, linear mise-en-scene would certainly not be the right solution. And yet, director Anja Salomonowitz, famous for her desire to experiment and to search every time for new cinematic languages, proved to be perfectly capable of carrying out this task. And so, her feature film Sleeping with a Tiger, premiered at the Berlinale 2024 in the Forum section, is undoubtedly a worthy homage to the artist from Kappel am Krappfeld.

Scenes from the famous painter’s life, therefore, alternate with her paintings, which, without the need for captions or music, often take centre stage on the movie screen. Sleeping with a Tiger retraces in almost chronological order the most important stages of Lassnig’s life (for the occasion played by a versatile Birgit Minichmayr), from her childhood in Carinthia spent at her grandmother’s house, to her conflictual relationship with her mother (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg), the periods spent in Paris and in the United States and the last years spent back in Austria, finally famous but always reluctant to sell her precious paintings or organise exhibitions.

Maria Lassnig is as if in a trance, inside her workshop, as she prepares to paint her next painting. Her body contracts and, with its almost unnatural movements, fully reflects how the artist has always considered the human body itself: a sort of prison that, only when it begins to change its shape, finally allows its inhabitant to break free. In this sense, therefore, Sleeping with a Tiger proves to be perfectly in line with the artist’s poetics and, just as Lassnig did in her time, makes the contamination between different art forms one of its workhorses.

Painting, but also cinema, therefore, find a beautiful harmony in this feature by Anja Salomonowitz. And while we see some fragments from Maria Lassnig’s short film Selfportrait (1971), the whole thing takes on almost a surreal touch, suddenly, when some ants (who have always been ‘friends’ of the young Maria) help the girl transport one of her paintings or a tiger unexpectedly enters her workshop.

Yet, Sleeping with a Tiger is not just this. Sleeping with a Tiger is, in fact, much more. And from the moment we witness the turbulent relationship between Lassnig and young painter Arnulf Rainer, or when the art of the non-conformist VALIE EXPORT is harshly criticised by the painter, the feature film immediately becomes a complex and never banal discourse about making art, but also about the difficulty women have in asserting themselves in a purely male field (“to achieve the same results as a man, a woman has to work three times as hard”) and about how our lives are constantly influenced by a sometimes too narrow-minded society and by religion. The excellent Birgit Minichmayr, in this sense, proved to be the perfect performer, courageous and never over the top. Anja Salomonowitz, therefore, has given us a complex and layered, extremely rich and sophisticated feature film. A feature film that is never afraid to exaggerate. Just as our beloved Maria Lassnig did in her time.

Original title: Mit einem Tiger schlafen
Directed by: Anja Salomonowitz
Country/year: Austria / 2024
Running time: 107’
Genre: biographical, drama, experimental
Cast: Birgit Minichmayr, Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Maria Nicolini, Lukas Watzl, Oskar Haag, Josef Kleindienst, Christine Buchmann, Raphael Nicholas, Saladin Dellers, Dominik Raneburger, Johannes Silberschneider, Sebastian Brauneis
Screenplay: Anja Salomonowitz
Cinematography: Jo Molitoris
Produced by: coop99 Filmproduktion

Info: the page of Sleeping with a Tiger on iMDb; the page of Sleeping with a Tiger on the website of the Berlinale; the page of Sleeping with a Tiger on the website of the coop99 Filmproduktion