Two strange and very different films today. The first was quite an intellectual stretch, The Dreamed Ones or Die Geträumten is by way of being a cinematic essay. The decision to realise on film the correspondence between Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann could have been handled in one of two ways; to fictionalise the true life story of these two unique poets and lovers or simply to allow their words to speak for them. Ruth Beckermann chose two speakers, the woman – Anja Plaschg is a composer, musician and many things, and is well known in Germany but is not an actor; Laurence Rupp is not well known at all. They did not know each other before being brought together for this piece.
So, in a series of steps, they read the letters that were exchanged between the two poets, who met briefly for two months in Vienna immediately after the war; Celan, a Romanian Jew and a concentration camp survivor, had lost all his family in The Holocaust, Bachmann was a young Austrian, she had survived the war and she never told Celan that her father was a well known Nazi.
Between takes, the readers discuss what they have been reading and what they think was going on in the minds and hearts of the two separated lovers, how much influence did the separation have on their work.
By the time Celan committed suicide in Paris in 1971, Paul and Ingeborg had corresponded, sometimes with long pauses, sometimes over several weeks in a constant stream of letters and cards. Bachmann remained in Germany, planning to visit France but for one reason or another failing, they did not see each other for many years, until Celan returned to Germany for a poetry symposium, where they rekindled their affection, only to part again for many more years.
Some of the time they even hated each other, but the long-distance relationship while fractured, survived and although in the end it was recognised between them that it was no longer a love affair, the relationship was important to both of them, professionally as poets especially. Though he did not, and could not admit it, Celan was a better poet because of Bachmann. It took him years to accept that she was brilliant, eventually writing after one of the readings, that he now finally realised and appreciated the quality of her work.
Ironically, she was famous in her own country, while he being Jewish and Ukranian, was mocked at readings, which caused yet another painful rift. In a strange way, both of them regarded themselves in some way as victims; in was in expressing herself in tune with the pain the Celan felt on account of his background that caused a big rift, but it is also clear from her poems and her letters that in her own way, Ingeborg Bergmann also felt a victim of her heritage, which while different in scale and substance from Celan, might also been seen as valid, since having a Nazi father was not comfortable for her once the full horrors of the regime came to be known and understood.
This observational method chosen by Ruth Beckermann and Ina Hartwig, has its merits though for an English audience, many of whom would have had to read the subtitles, it probably left too much out. One needed far more information that was presented on the screen, unless already in tune with the letters, 300 of which are published and translated, and the poems.
The second film was Adieu Bonaparte, a collaboration with Egypt and France from 1984. This film, set during the 1790s when France occupied Egypt, paints an intimate portrait of General Caffarelli, who famously denounced Bonaparte’s war of occupation and favoured a more gentle approach of cultural exchange.
Youssef Chahine‘s vision received a mixed reception when first screened, however another chance to see this extraordinary film, showing Cairo and Alexandria as cities of great variety, and its people filled with a great passion, hopeless bravery and a perpetual quest for independence.
The film opens with the arrival of the French fleet, shortly followed by the news that the supply ships have been sunk in the Battle of Aboukir Bay (or more accurately called The Battle of the Nile) by Admiral Nelson (1798). The film collapses eight years of occupation in which hideous attrition was visited upon the Egyptian villages, and concentrates on the conflict between Bonaparte and his generals, many of whom died during the campaign.
The portrait of Louis-Marie Caffarelli du Falga, played by Michel Piccoli, a high born member of the French military, is sympathetic. A common criticism of his attitudes was expressed as “Caffa doesn’t give a damn what happens; he’s always sure to have one foot in France,” referring to the fact that he had his leg amputated at an earlier Napoleonic battle. He was responsible for the establishment of the Institute of Egypt concentrating on moral and political sciences, and formed part of the commission for drafting the Institute’s regulations. He also accompanied Napoleon on the surveys to trace the route of what later become the Suez Canal.
Patrice Chereau gives a brooding, intense rendering of the young Napoleon.