A few years after the end of the Second World War, a man whose parents perished in a concentration camp and a woman whose father was a Nazi party member met and fell deeply in love. The man’s name was Paul Celan, a twenty-seven year old German language poet of Romanian origin whose most famous works grapple with the horrors of the Holocaust. The woman was twenty-one year old Ingeborg Bachmann, a philosophy student whose renown as an author and poet was yet to come.
Ruth Beckermann’s The Dreamed Ones explores the turbulent, decades-long love affair between the two, through the many letters they wrote to each other. Austrian actors Anja Plaschg and Laurence Rupp read the letters with moving sincerity and feeling, but Beckermann seems just as interested in them as she is in Bachmann and Celan. Her camera continues to observe the pair between sessions as they react to the words: sometimes with stunned silence, sometimes by debating what the lovers really felt, and other times by momentarily emptying their minds over a meal, a cigarette or a YouTube video.
Given the almost overwhelming emotional and intellectual force of the letters, these pauses also offer the viewer some much needed moments of reflection and recovery. Beckermann’s attempts to parallel the actors with Bachmann and Celan aren’t entirely successful, however. Their improvised conversations can’t quite match the exceptional clarity, beauty and intelligence of the letters, while the artful way in which she frames them eating lunch or gazing out of a window implies profundity where it doesn’t necessarily exist.
Yet these are minor qualms about a film that – in brilliantly original fashion – successfully and profoundly engages with the universal themes of love, trauma, fame, artistic and political conscience, despair, and death. Listening to these two titans of European literature speak, the ghosts of the twentieth century feel closer than ever.
Maximilian Von Thun | @M3Yoshioka