Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bildnis einer Unbekannten / Portrait of an Unknown Woman

Bildnis einer Unbekannten. O. W. Fischer (Jan Keller), Ruth Leuwerik (Nicole).

Tuntemattoman muotokuva / Hans okända modell.
    Director: Helmut Käutner. Year: 1954. Country: Germania. Section: Watchful Dreamer: The Subversive Melancholia of Helmut Käutner
    Sog., Scen.: Hans Jacoby. F.: Werner Krien. M.: Anneliese Schönnenbeck. Scgf.: Ludwig Reiber, Max Seefelder, Willi Horn. Mus.: Franz Grothe.
    Int.: Ruth Leuwerik (Nicole), O. W. Fischer (Jan Maria Keller), Erich Schellow (Walter), Albrecht Schönhals (l’ambasciatore), Irene von Meyendorff (la moglie dell’ambasciatore), Nikolaj Kolin (Sascha), Paul Hoffmann (Hernaudez).
    Prod.: Utz Utermann per Sirius-Film. 35mm. D.: 107’. Bn.
    From Das Bundesarchiv / Filmarchiv.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Introduce Sergio Grmek Germani (critico).
    Cinema Lumiere – Sala Scorsese, 27 June 2017

Olaf Möller (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "The early 1950s were a period of crisis for Käutner, as most of his films failed to connect with audiences and critics alike. In hindsight, a Heimat noir with Kammerspiel-aspects like Weiße Schatten (1951), a musical comedy like Käpt’n Bay-Bay (Captain Bay-Bay, 1952) or indeed a refined melodrama like Bildnis einer Unbekannten (Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1954) might have been formally too complex and too refined in mood cum content to compete with the big hits of the times."

"Curiously enough, two of these are closely connected with Käutner’s earlier successes: Käpt’n Bay-Bay is a return to the world of Große Freiheit Nr. 7 in a decidedly more self-reflexive key, while Bildnis einer Unbekannten bears some resemblance to the dark poetics of the Maupassant- and Bernstein-inspired Romanze in Moll (Romance in a Minor Key, 1943)."

"Let’s stay with the latter pair, for the comparison is quite instructive. Romanze in Moll talks about a woman’s ultimate sacrifice: she takes her life to save her husband’s reputation while her secret lover, a musician, gets hurt so badly in a duel over her honor that he’ll never be able to perform again; here, everybody loses."

"A decade later, in Bildnis einer Unbekannten, a diplomat willingly faces a scandal so as to retain his professional integrity: a painting of what looks like his wife in the nude is allowed to be auctioned in a charity event hosted by a sinister businessman."

"To clarify matters, the couple travels to Paris where they meet the artist responsible for the picture. The woman does fall for him but nothing happens even if both would like to consummate their passion; and the husband is ready to ignore his wife’s fancy; but: as the woman knows that life with a diplomat can never be truly free, she leaves him for a potential future with the artist. Common sense prevails in these more liberal days. Ruth Leuwerik as the wife and Otto Wilhelm Fischer as the painter would move on to Ludwig II. – Glanz und Ende eines Königs."
Olaf Möller (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: Helmut Käutner's most productive period started in 1954. Between award-winning prestige productions he directed with a fine touch more intimate subjects such as the Portrait of an Unknown Woman.

The film is based on a screenplay by Hans Jacoby, a Weimar veteran whose career continued in French and Hollywood exile during Hitler. While the narrative has affinities with the pièce bien faite and the boulevard theatre, both the screenplay and its execution rise above the conventional.

"Kleider machen Leute" ("Clothes Make the Man") is the title of a Gottfried Keller story filmed by Käutner, and it could serve as a motto for his career. All interpretations of the proverb would be relevant with him. Among other things Käutner was always aware of "the true self and the false self" to quote the terms of D. W. Winnicott.

The angle in this film is ironical and satirical. A shallow painter turns out to have moral fibre. Diplomats turn out to be hypocrites.

A starting point is being without clothes: the central object is a nude painting of a woman. Her face is real but her identity is unknown to the painter Jan Maria Keller (O. W. Fischer) who has seen her only fleetingly at the ballet and added her face to the body of another woman.

The brilliant comic peripeteia is the confrontation of the diplomat Walter with the painter. The painter has told the diplomat the truth that he has never met his wife Nicole (Ruth Leuwerik) and only made a croquis drawing of her face at the ballet based on a fleeting impression at a distance. The reversal of fortune is caused by Nicole who startlingly claims that she is an old friend, nude model (and presumably more) to Keller. She lies to help Walter divorce her in order to rescue his diplomatic career.

The men are taken by surprise, and the development of the story from now on remains unpredictable. Having immediately distanced himself from Nicole Walter, upon reflection, wants Nicole back: theirs has been a true love union. Although Jan becomes Nicole's protector he does not take advantage of her even when she gets drunk and stays at his place all night.

They go through the motions of the divorce process ("it is important that we share the same version") before it turns out that "unüberwindliche Abneigung" ("insurmountable aversion") provides sufficient grounds for divorce.

All three protagonists are transformed through the experience.

Nicole's face has fired Jan's imagination at first sight. She evokes the romantic instinct in him. While Nicole sleeps at his studio Jan paints his windows full of ice flowers because things might change only when it snows in Paris in August. "Kein Wunder, nur Zauber" ("No wonder, only magic").

In the finale Nicole confesses to Walter that "my world and your world do not fit together". For Jan Nicole brings wonder and orders him to "paint me". She goes offscreen, and we see her clothes fly by one by one...

There is an affinity with the wit of Ernst Lubitsch and the spirit of Max Ophuls, but most fundamentally the movie is a personal work of Helmut Käutner, for Henri Langlois "the last Romantic of the German cinema".

This often purely visual movie (no dialogue during the first 5½ minutes) has been elegantly shot by Werner Krien with graceful camera movements.

In the cast it is fascinating to discover Nikolaj Kolin / Nikolas Koline, the veteran of Films Albatros (Kean is on display at this festival) and Napoléon (Tristan Fleuri).

A print with a drizzle of scratches at heads and tails, an uneven definition of light, and low contrast at times.

This film brings to mind a joke in the "dumb blonde" tradition.
– Why did the blonde strip naked?
– ???
– Because she had heard that clothes make a man.


Ein Pariser Maler sieht im Theater eine schöne Frau, malt sie und benutzt ihr Gesicht für ein Aktbild. Als er das Bild verkauft, kommt es bei einer Ausstellung zum Skandal, denn die Frau ist die Gattin des Botschafters. Um seiner Karriere nicht im Wege zu stehen, erzählt sie ihrem Ehemann, sie wäre tatsächlich das Modell des Malers gewesen, verlässt ihn und geht wieder in ihren alten Beruf als Barsängerin. Als der Maler dem Ehemann die Wahrheit sagt, will dieser seine Frau zurück. Aber die hat sich inzwischen in den charmanten Maler verliebt, der nun ein wirkliches Aktbild von ihr malen kann.

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