A woman’s self-destruction and a public scandal in Ulrike Ottinger's alcoholic odyssey.
A restored version of the film will be shown in the Museum’s auditorium. It will be introduced by German cinema researcher Peter Rempel.
A very rich woman of few words arrives in Berlin for the sole purpose of taking to drink. Changing from one luxurious outfit into another, she strolls between expensive restaurants and down-at-heel bars, baccarat and barracks, accompanied by a new friend—an eccentric homeless woman. They are closely followed by three gray-clad venerable ladies, Social Question, Common Sense and Accurate Statistics, who comment on what is happening, as well as by reporters creating a scandal in the press about the stranger’s indecent public behavior.
“She, a woman of exquisite beauty, of classical dignity and harmonious Raphaelesque proportions, a woman, created like no other to be Medea, Madonna, Beatrice, Iphigenia, Aspasia, decided one sunny winter day to leave La Rotonda…She purchased a ticket of no return to Berlin-Tegel.” This is how queen of German camp Ulrike Ottinger’s intoxicating extravaganza begins; the first part of her “Berlin” trilogy, better known in Germany as Portrait of a Female Drunkard. The film stars Ottinger’s life partner and fellow artist Tabea Blumenstein, a muse and co-author in one person, who acted frequently in her lover’s pictures and co-directed some of them, while also creating unforgettable costume designs for her heroine in Ticket of No Return, from ultrafeminine dresses to drag-king masculine garments. These outfits helped Ottinger and Blumenstein expose the double standards in society’s attitude to alcohol-addicted women: the main protagonist’s impeccable style and facade of decency open any doors to her, but when she instigates a drunken brawl it instantly induces classist and sexist disgust.
From the very beginning, the fantasy nature of the action is suggested by the fictitious name of the place where the nameless heroine comes from, La Rotonda. Using alcohol as a means of escapism, the stranger constantly switches between the dimension of dreams and annoying reality, with the border between them becoming completely blurred at some point. The trickster character reads a monologue from Hamlet and walks the tightrope in a circus performance, participates in an auto show and dances in a lesbian bar, while constantly drinking cognac, wine, champagne, and cider. Her contagious disobedience encompasses not only people on the edges of society—other alcohol addicts and marginals—but also the three respectable ladies who change from a tool of Brechtian defamiliarization into participants of the attraction, inventing together with the main protagonist their own alcoholic drink.
Ticket of No Return is something of a crossover between the universes created by New German Cinema’s three prominent queer directors: Ottinger, Fassbinder, Schroeter. Fassbinder stars Kurt Raab, Volker Spengler, and Eddie Constantine appear in bit parts, with Schroeter's muse Magdalena Montezuma, who would take the lead role in Ottinger’s next feature and the second part of the Berlin trilogy, Freak Orlando (1981), here portraying Social Question. The film also features Ottinger herself alongside artists Martin Kippenberger and Wolf Vostell and punk rocker Nina Hagen.
The multifaceted character of German cinema’s new wave (broadly covering the period 1959–1997) touches on a wide variety of aspects and is in many ways similar to Krautrock. Both movements turned to German romanticism and camp. From the outset the German new wave comprised imitative German Westerns, Hamburg experimenters working in parallel with new American film, Berlin workers’ cinema, socially reconceived “Heimat” ( homeland) films, and psychedelic road movies. This variety incorporated an eternal cinematic poetry, international and local.
Many of these motifs can be found in Ulrike Ottinger’s filmography. Her career began together with that of actress Tabea Blumenstein with the feminist “Berlin” trilogy (Ticket of No Return, Freak Orlando, Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press) and ended with documentaries on countries of the East (Taiga, Exile Shanghai, The Korean Wedding Chest), marked by an interest in extravagance and color. Thanks to these innovations, contemporary German filmmakers continue to draw inspiration from the 1970s, a golden age where much remains to be discovered.
The film will be screened in German with Russian subtitles.
Dir. Ulrike Ottinger
Germany, 1979. 107 min. 18+