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German cinema's ‘mad genius'

Special Correspondent



Werner Schroeter

Thrissur: Master auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder considered only one filmmaker his artistic equal: his compatriot Werner Schroeter.

The Fifth Thrissur International Film Festival (TIFF-2010), to begin on September 2, will pay tribute to Schroeter by screening his 1980 film, ‘Palermo or Wolfsburg' (German: Palermo oder Wolfsburg). He died on April 12 at the age of 65.

‘Palermo', which tells the story of a young Italian who migrates to Germany after the Second World War, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1980.

Significance

Like the screening of Pasolini films at the International Film Festival of Kerala in Kozhikode a few years ago, the presentation of a Schroeter film here is culturally significant as it indicates an expansion of sensibilities. The world of culture is appropriately responding to the landmark judgment that decriminalised homosexuality.

Schroeter's meeting with another German experimental filmmaker, Rosa von Praunheim (born Holger Bernhard Bruno Mischwitzky), a gay rights activist, changed his art and life.

In 1968, they co-directed ‘Grotesk – Burlesk – Pittoresk'.

The film featured Magdalena Montezuma, who went on to become Schroeter's favourite star.

She appeared in just about all his feature films until her death in 1986.

Her last role was in ‘The Rose King' (1985), Schroeter's most explicitly gay film. It depicts a young man who is raring to cultivate the perfect rose.

What made Schroeter different from his contemporaries Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog?

Loyal following

“His almost complete rejection of realism, social and political, and his espousal of high camp,” wrote critic Ronald Bergan.

“His mixture of flamboyant, gender-bending minimalism and stylised melodrama, inspired by 19th-century Italian bel canto opera and the music of German romanticism, often juxtaposed with popular song, blurred the distinction between art and kitsch.”

Despite being a marginal figure by way of his rejection of conventional narrative methods, Schroeter had a loyal, mostly gay, following. The 1971 film, ‘The Death of Maria Malibran', established his reputation as a ‘mad genius'.

Of the film, French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote: “What Schroeter does with a face, a cheekbone, the lips, the expression of the eyes, is a multiplying and burgeoning of the body, an exultation.”

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