Director: Yvonne Rainer
In Journeys from Berlin/1971, there are five characters a man, a woman and an adolescent girl who "appears" on the sound track, a female psychoanalytic patient in her early fifties, and a therapist, or analyst, played alternately by a man, a woman, and a nine-year-old boy The speech of the analytic session is synchronous with the image The voice-over of the other three people bears a constantly shifting relationship to a recurrent gamut of images views from a moving train window and various apartment windows in Berlin, London and New York; tracking shots in close-up scanning a mantelpiece cluttered with objects; aerial views of Stonehenge and the Berlin Wall; and a sequence of highly formalised editing that deals with a man and woman walking in an outdoor urban space.
The patient reminisces, falls asleep, harangues the analyst, complains. and finally begins to examine her own suicide attempt, which took place in Berlin in 1971. The man and woman of the sound track prepare dinner and read to each other from the writings of various revolutionaries who have attempted political "attentat", such as Vera Zasulich and Alexander Berkman and others such as Emma Goldman, Vera Fig ner and Ulrike Mein hof. The inevitable comparisons are made - and rejected - between 19th century Russian and contemporary German acts of political violence. interwoven with these voices is the voice of the adolescent girl reading from a (her?) diary kept during the 19505.
The subject matter of the film is pursued and elaborated in parallel - sometimes contingent, sometimes contrasting - investigations of political violence/suicide; Self-determination/ the power of the State; psychological introspection/political engagement; self-knowledge/altruism; and American/European relations to these matters. The film utilises formal strategies that gained prominence in the premises of 1960s art and dancemaking. namely. the inherent expressiveness of quotidian gesture and imagery and the relativity of meaning resulting from “radical” random or ambiguous juxtapositions. Such juxtapositions occur repeatedly in Journeys from Berlin/1971, at times producing an almost vaudevillian effect, as when the patient addresses the boy-analyst and compares procreation to the internal combustion engine.
Even more than her earlier films, Journeys from Berlin/1971 is a disjunctive, post-Godardian assemblage of discrete events. Four separate narratives weave around each other and a series of recurring street scenes with the interlocking patterns of a wickerwork basket. One strand presents a history of political repression in post-war West Germany through an intermittent series of titles. A second narrative consists of voice- over excerpts from the diary of an adolescent girl (read by Lena Hyun). The third is purely aural as well: two New York intellectuals (Amy Taubin and Vito Acconci) discuss 19th century Russian terrorists and the Baader- Meinhof Gang as they prepare and eat dinner. The din of a neighbour's disco party is occasionally heard in the background.
Only the fourth narrative strand involves a synchronous sound and image. This is the psychoanalytic session of a fiftyish woman (film-theorist Annette Micnelson, one of Rainer's most consistent critical ' champions). Rainer gives Mic nelson some of the funniest, most ruthlessly honest lines i've ever heard in a movie house, and Michelson responds with the most bravura performance in any Rainer film. In her cultivated George Sanders' drawl, Michelson delivers a wonderfully dense monologue, a hilarious cascade of non-sequiturs that suggests Zippy the Pinhead with a Ph.D.
Nodding out in her seat, describing an affair with Samuel Beckett, regressing to age three, Michelson is absolutely mesmerising. And this despite the sight gags that Rainer regularly detonates throughout her sequences. Michelson sits facing her therapist over a desk. The shrink, whose back is always to us, is alternately a man, a woman, and a nine-year-old boy. Almost as disquietingly, the office where the session takes place is set in the deep public space of a naked-on~the-street nightmare. In the shadows behind Michelsen we see typical bits of Rainer choreography — people laying a carpet or dragging in a iifeboat — and always, as everywhere in the film, an incessant stream of traffic.
Initially, Journeys is quite disorienting. If the film has a definite trajectory, it is also a field to be entered at any point; filled with cross-references which only become apparent on a subsequent viewing. Gradually Rainer established a continual, abstract sense of daily life and of a West Germany that, with its oppressive prosperity and totalitarian newspeak, seems the world's most advanced state, the Future.
These serve as backdrops for Taubin and Acconci's mock-Socratic dialogue on terror, as well as for the voices of precocious innocence and world-weary experience as they contrapuntally discuss egotism, the family, suicide and social consciousness.
A mixture of fiction and autobiography is the halimark of all Rainer's fiims. There's a sense in which she's revived the psychodrama that Maya Deren pioneered, albeit in a cooler and more ironic mode — full of stand-ins and split personae. The three female voices in Journeys are, in fact, her own, written when she was 16. With the film's penultimate movement, she begins rapidly intercutting or overlapping the dialogue of all three empathy. She follows this with a reading of one of Ulrike Meinhof's last letters, in which Meinhof describes the psychiatric coercion applied to her in prison and advises a similarly incarcerated friend. The last image, one of genuine humility, has Rainer being taught to play the recorder. The juxtaposition is akin to Gramsci's exhortation: 'Pessimism of the mind, optimism of the will'."
J. Hoberman Village Voice