From: "Ivan Mansley" <ivanman>
Sent: Friday, October 01, 2004 12:05 AM +0100


We have come a long way from the simplicities of bilberry picking and the blacksmith’s forge to this story of a corrupted past, a tortuous and convoluted sexual relationship, and a mysterious death, which may be either accident or suicide, although the latter is more likely in the opinion of your commentator. It is difficult to explain but I felt that somehow there was a gap left between what the images of the film were depicting and the weight and complexity of the ideas and relationships behind them. The emotional freight / baggage is too heavy for the vehicle. In addition, I feel that the Cerphal / Goldblaum theme has taken over the film and lessened its impact and interest a little.

I found the last 10 minutes of the episode had the most dramatic impact for me. Reinhard has finished writing his script, “Esther”, based on the life of Esther Goldbaum, the illegitimate daughter of Gerold Gattinger and Edith Goldbaum. Edith was the chosen playmate of Elisabeth Cerphal, and later died in the Dachau concentration camp where she was sent after her betrayal to the Nazis by the man who fathered her child, Herr Gattinger. I hope I have these details all correct! Reinhard joins his friend and colleague, Rob, at a hotel on the Ammersee. We have a short scene where Rob, drinking his cup of coffee, strides on to the shingle beach and observes his friend, Reinhard, out on the lake in a small rowing boat, reading his script whilst rocking the boat from side to side quite violently. This lends some credence to the notion that his disappearance and death could have been an accident, but the camera focuses on the upturned script in the empty boat, lying where it has been neatly placed. It cannot have been an accident, as the script could not have fallen like this and would have probably gone into the water. Reinhard, it would seem, has taken his own life.

This final scene is very well done. Hermann is the first to spot the empty boat, and he and Volker think the boat may just have slipped its moorings. However, there is a sense of impending doom and growing panic. A police boat and divers arrive. Rob has called them. He has sensed what has happened. “He always rocked about, but……;” his voice tails away. There is a metallic clanging of a bell in the background. The characters realise the enormity of what has happened, and the final shot is of police boats with their lights on, as darkness falls and the grey-black waters of the lake  swirl and eddy. Ideas and image cohere.

Having opted for the suicide interpretation it is then possible to go through the episode and find clues to support this theory or option, but I do admit that Reinhard remains for me a somewhat enigmatic character and I am hard-pressed to explain exactly why he takes his own life. What do others feel? Has Edgar Reitz fully realised this character and made his motivations clear to you? He is a fitness fanatic [ notice the boxing gloves and punch-bag attached to the ceiling of his apartment], and one of the first things we learn about him at the beginning of this episode is that he has picked up some form of amoebic dysentery in Mexico [ Montezuma’s Revenge, as the doctor calls it] and is very troubled by it. When Hermann arrives at the ruins of the Fuchsbau, Reinhard is ensconced behind the construction barrier, defecating, trousers round his ankles. There are times when he is in considerable pain, and it cannot have raised his spirits. Reinhard feels the loss of old, happy times in the villa very keenly. His earlier life was unsettled. He apparently changed school 5 times. In his commentary Hermann says of Reinhard: “His soul was full of the world’s greatness [vastness??] and it was too much for him”. There we have a clue! He is self-centred. He mocks Hermann’s domesticity [kinde and kuche] and admits he doesn’t like children. Reihard’s age becomes important, especially in relation to Trixi, but it has come up before. It is his 33rd birthday and Alex comments, “Christ’s age…Time to do something for your immortality.” Has he got those words in his ear at the end? It seems he cannot come to terms with human loneliness and selfishness. He asks Alex, “What’s wrong with us?” I am sure the reply does nothing to reassure him, however wise it may be. “The same as with everyone else. We are mirror
images of the whole.” Alex may be quoting. It sounds a bit Platonic to me! Reinhard observes a lack of solidarity among his contemporaries on his return from S. America [“Everyone skulking in their own corner”.] and declares, almost defiantly, “I want to belong, to be needed.” Of course, we all want that, but Reinhard has yet to come to terms with the realities of life, perhaps. Talking about his script he tells Trixi, “For now I’m just sad. Because I’m sad I write.”

Later he offers the lead role in his new film to Olga. He does this in the form of a postcard which is read aloud in Trixi’s hearing. In a fit of jealous rage she hurls Indian ink all over Olga’s smart looking outfit and storms out. When Reinhard does return in person from Venice, Trixi sees him in the street and rams his car door with her bicycle. Trying to placate her Reinhard follows her into a café, but his words are spurned and Trixi with a dramatic flourish accuses him thus: “Let me tell you something. You’re a washout. You’ll never make a good film.” It is hard to believe that a grown man would pay too much attention to the words of a 15 year old girl but they must have resonated. And now the embittered, jilted, jealous teenager thrusts these words at him: “You’re a flag in the wind…Fluttering, waving and drooping!” Her final shot, as she walks through the door, is expressed in the memorable words, “Bury yourself, Reinhard.” Could these words have influenced his final actions? They must have echoed in his mind as he sat in the boat. Is he a “hollow man”, as T.S.Eliot, the Anglo-American poet, put it?

We must, of course, consider the Venetian scenes and Reinhard’s relationship with Esther. They seem to fall deeply in love, if that is the right way to express their tortured and often masochistic entanglement. At one point Esther declares that Reinhard in telling her life-story through his film script is “falsifying” her and that he is being “too romantic, too German.” Somehow, I felt that these scenes were very German in their mixing of sexual
and violent episodes. I hope German readers will excuse me! We have a kind of macabre dance of death. We have Esther, astride a naked Reinhard, taking photographs. We have talk of beheading and where the blade will enter the neck and where it will emerge. We have Esther basically imprisoning Reinhard, because, in the frenzy of her passion, she does not want him to leave. She appears to be trying to wrench out his hair and gouge his eyes out, as he lies struggling on the floor. The violence erupts suddenly out of nowhere. Before his death he has sent her a postcard saying, “Sometimes I’m ready to give up the film and rush to you. How could I face you without having told Esther’s story? It’s my way of loving you, isn’t it?” Here lies the real reason for his suicide, I think. He fears that his film will be a failure and that he cannot fully deserve Esther’s love. It is possible that such thoughts have surfaced in the mind of Edgar Reitz himself at some time. Esther had accused Reinhard’s writing of being “cheap and exaggerated.” Did he also come to believe that this was true?

The Venetian scenes are set in winter. We see darkened alleyways, dark shuttered buildings, sinister winding colonnades and bridges, rats on the canal-side; a city full of enclosed worlds and brooding secrets. It is all shot in a kind of muted black and white, except for the scene where Esther, dressed in a kind of red jump-suit, is projecting images of Reinhard.Everything is then suffused in a melodramatic red. These scenes reminded me of two other films set in Venice; “Don’t Look Now”, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, which I saw in the early 70’s, had Venice as a wintry, desolate backdrop with ghostly hauntings ending in death; secondly, I recall, Dirk Bogard as von Aschenbach, in the film version of Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice”. There we had the tortured passions of an elderly man for a beautiful youth set in Venice and written by a German! Do the shots of a flooded St.Mark’s Square, through which Reinhard wades, presage a watery end? I think this shot is repeated almost at the end which certainly suggests this.

There is something I wanted to say about the way in which themes are picked up and used by Reitz and also the way in which he elides from one scene to another. For instance, Reinhard muses about beheading at the sight of the photograph of his head and neck. He argues that we live in an age when this could not happen unlike the way it happened to Esther’s mother in the Third Reich. Esther not surprisingly corrects him by saying that her mother was gassed not beheaded. Our minds are focused on the horrors of such deaths. Later at the Ammersee Clarissa’s attention is drawn to a beheaded figure [rather grotesque, I thought] on the church wall, and when she ventures inside there is a depiction of St. Alban being executed. Some rather horrific cherubs are in attendance. A nun tells her that the Christian message is “He that believes in me will have everlasting life”. The head can be replaced, as Clarissa suggests. There is no suggestion that Reinhard was a believer but our minds are invited to explore Christian theology and how it might apply to Reinhard’s death.

A quick note on two elisions. Juan is left playing the flute on the site of the ruined Fuchsbau. It begins to pour with rain. We see water pouring down the window and walls of Clarissa’s bedroom which is then followed by the breaking of her waters. Trixi hurls blue Indian ink at Olga in the cutting room, snatches Reinhard’s postcard and storms out. We then see the postcard on the ground where she has thrown it with blotches of blue ink upon the picture of the Bridge of Sighs which then merges with the real bridge and we are back in Venice. Clever!! It took me sometime to work that one out.

You might notice there are 3 babies in the episode; Hermann and Schnüsschen’s child, Lulu [Simone?], Volker and Clarissa’s little Arnold, and Helga’s unnamed baby, seen in a basket after Helga is hauled from the bulldozer. Stefan may or may not be the father. At any rate he seems concerned. The Hermann-Clarissa thread is not developed much further, but we are made to realise that all is not well with Volker and Clarissa. They marry but the baby does not really unite them. Clarissa tells Juan that she envies him living alone. Volker has turned sadly away. Juan talks of a love affair on board ship and Clarissa remarks, “Something like that comes only once”, and the camera looks over to Hermann. There is a good dramatic scene between Clarissa and her mother after the breaking of her waters during the night. She states that she does not really love her husband but sums up his character as being “tender and intelligent and patient” and as a musician he is “sometimes almost a genius”. How contrary are womenkind!! Hermann certainly does not possess all those qualities, but I digress. Mrs. Lichtblau now appears in a good light, in my opinion, as the reassuring voice of commonsense. Clarissa declares, “I can’t just take life as it comes”, and mother replies, “You MUST”. [My capitals!] There we have it in a nutshell! The yearning adolescents, although they are no longer really that, can only become fully adult when they accept mother’s advice. The journey to adulthood is a long one. Reinhard cannot make it.

This leads me on to the title. Reinhard’s suicide is certainly the end of his future. I noticed someone say of the developer’s sign board that there was the future; office blocks and so on but that will continue not end. Perhaps Maarten will give us some clues? We have the Beatles song “Yesterday” on the soundtrack in the night-club with this line heard very
clearly; “All our troubles are here to stay”. That is what our new generation find. I leave you with only one question this time:-
1. What happens to Fraulein Cerphal and Herr Gattinger after their furious quarrel about the lost money? Esther locks the door after entering Reinhard’s room and places her cap over the handle so they are not spied upon through the keyhole, perhaps. She has crawled over to the door so as not to be seen. And we do not see them [Cerphal and Gattinger] again in the rest of the episode.

Ivan Mansley.