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Ticket of No Return

Ulrike Ottinger

A portrait of two unusual but also extremely different women. One rich, eccentric, hiding her feelings behind a rigid mask, consciously drinks herself to death. The other is a known drinker in town. In the course of the story they try to get to know each other, but they cannot come together. The background is Berlin, thrown open to a grotesque kind of sightseeing (drinkers’ geography) and complemented by authentic contributions from people who live here or are visiting, rock singers, writers, artist, taxi drivers. With Tabea Blumenschein, Magdalena Montezuma, Nina Hagen and Eddie Constantine.

“Within this relatively static framework, the variables — such as the heroine’s wardrobe, the diverse narrative settings for her drinking, and diverse inventions in the dialogue and mise en scène — give the film a flamboyant, expressive range.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum

“Well, I thought The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press was pretty fantastic but somehow this is even better. Again, many Fassbinder regulars appear (Kurt Raab, Eddie Constantine, and Peer Raben even does the music), and while it’s tempting to compare Ottinger to the great German New Wave director, it would also be a huge disservice to her own clearly singular and unique talent.

Even putting her in a box like “radical feminist filmmaker” feels insufficient and limiting. Obviously, there is a strong political subtext going on here, but it’s fairly subtle and understated. Well okay maybe not exactly, but at the very least it’s didactic in a funny way. Certainly it’s a piece of accomplished artistic filmmaking far beyond being simply a political tract.

While on the surface Ottinger’s style feels rooted in a similar vein of self-conscious artifice and theatricality as Fassbinder, she seems to share little of his interest in classic Hollywood melodrama. Instead her sensibility seems much more firmly derived from punk and the performance art of the period. Yet if this sounds intimidating or un-cinematic, it isn’t at all. While certainly surreal, and surprisingly minimalistic compared to Dorian Gray, the film has a certain humorous and even almost playful bent, despite it’s overall bleak premise and apparent world view.

The plot, to the extent that one exists (it’s really more of a series of vignettes), concerns a wealthy woman who arrives in Berlin, resigned to drink herself to death. There she meets a homeless woman and the two form a friendship of sorts. The film follows the two perpetually drunk women as they traverse the surreal nocturnal cityscape. The wealthy woman never speaks. In fact, the film’s relative dearth of substantial dialogue and static camera at times brings to mind Tsai Ming-liang, or even Jacques Tati (I believe the film’s opening scene set it an airport might even be an explicit nod to Playtime), by way of Liquid Sky‘s striking, stylized post-punk costume design.

There’s also something about the anarchic plot (not to mention the explicit feminist subtext, obviously) that recalls Věra Chytilová’s cult favorite Daisies, although Ottinger’s film is far more subdued (albeit at times strikingly strange) and lacks the overbearing antic spirit that has made Chytilová’s film so popular (I can’t imagine Ottinger’s drier, downbeat approach ever catching on in quite the same way).

Yet despite these diverse and eclectic reference points, the film remains remarkably unique and distinctive. It’s dense, if not impenetrable, and leaves one with a pleasantly disoriented feeling (appropriately enough considering it’s a film all about being drunk). If nothing else, I can’t think of another film were you’ll find both Nina Hagen and one of the dwarf actors from Werner’s Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small in one place.” – Jake Gatsby Welles, Letterboxd


  • 3/28 | 6:30PM
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