In an age when we’ve become slave to our computers, phones and their multifold messaging applications, it’s difficult to imagine writing a letter to someone and then posting it. The person at the other end has to wait several days before receiving your correspondence, and it could be weeks before you’ve heard back from them. But does such wait heighten your feeling and emotions, is it a catalyst of love, or does dampen it instead?
Shortly after the Second World War, the Jewish Romanian-born poet Paul Celan – best known for his German poem Death Fugue, a shocking and dazzling description of life and death in a concentration camp – met in Vienna with Ingeborg Bachmann, an Austrian poet and dramatist, and the daughter of a devoted Nazi. They instantly fell in love, but Celan married another woman. So they exchanged poems and love letters for more than 20 years, until Celan’s untimely death in 1970 at the age of just 49.
The Austrian documentarist maker Ruth Beckermann, herself the daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors, worked with professional actors for the first time, creating a very unusual reenactment. She shuns modern and sophisticated cinematic devices in favour of old-fashioned reading. Anja F. Plaschg (who is also a famous experimental musician and artist) and Laurence Rupp read out Celan’s and Bachmann’s correspondence to each other in a recording studio inside the Funkhaus, a radio station and theater in central Vienna. They gaze into each other’s eyes, lie on the floor and take cigarette breaks. They gradually break the ice, smile, laugh and flirt with each other, leaving viewers wondering whether they too (the actors) are becoming infatuated.
The Dreamed Ones is, above everything else, a loud meditation about forlornness, immortality and the timelessness of art and love. The tormented love between Celan and Bachmann mandates a joyless life, it seems. Their painful relationship is very intense and alive, even if letters are their only communication device. They also discuss other pertinent subjects, such as antisemitism and fame. They are often angry at each other. Their love isn’t just impossible; it’s also profoundly dysfunctional.
The tragedy is sealed when Celan drowns in Paris at the age of just 49. Bachmann dies just three years later, in a fire in her flat in Rome. Water and fire: it seems that even at death the two lovers were incompatible.
This highly esoteric and minimalistic movie will come as a treat to fans of poetry, particularly in German language. A lot of the complexity of the text sadly gets lost in translation, but this is not the director’s fault. Some nuances of the Teutonic language simply don’t work in English. Viewers not familiar with Celan will learn about his distressed soul, but will not gain much insight into his best-known poems, including Death Fugue.
The Dreamed Ones is out in cinemas across the UK and beyond on Friday December 2nd.
Watch the film trailer below: