Ulrike is unlike anyone else - Paul Bellini - MyGaytoronto
Ulrike is unlike anyone else 21 February 2018.
Ulrike Ottinger was a visual artist and photographer in 1970s Germany. One day, she made a feature film, and then many more after that. It's likely you've never heard of any of them.
Nowadays, everyone makes a big stink about how there are so few female film directors. There have always been female filmmakers, it's just that most of them aren't from the United States. This year ushered in Dee Rees and Greta Gerwig, and Patty Jenkins broke through big time, but if you really want to celebrate women in film, how about discovering one you never knew anything about?
Ottinger, who is the subject of the documentary Nomad from the Lake, is old now, doing the circuit and enjoying retrospectives of her unusual movies. Actually, 'unusual' is a meek term. They are positively Felliniesque, brimming with circus and spectacle, never shying away from trompe l'oeil. She is, well, crazy, but in the good way. It's hard not to be amused by the immersive documentary Under Snow. Shot in Japan, it features lots of snow. There are so many moments of beauty, like the long swaths of coloured fabrics laid out on a snowy plain, or the column of straw set aflame, the smoke swirling around it, and the whole film culminates in a five minute sequence of dangerous waves pummelling the shoreline.
Ottinger is both a lesbian and an artist who loves ritual and exotic cultures. Her most notable film is the stylish Joan of Arc of Mongolia, about a group of society ladies (featuring Delphine Seyrig and Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann, among others) who are kidnapped off a train by a gorgeous warrior princess. It has everything - musical numbers, beautiful costumes, Nazis, trains, camels, all of it very tongue-in-cheek. The film is a genuine art house epic and, I can say confidently, unlike anything you've ever seen. However, a warning to the faint-hearted: try not to wince or barf when a real-live sheep is gutted and skinned by a Mongol. In 1989, while we were watching crap like Weekend at Bernie's and Look Who's Talking, German audiences had access to stuff like this.
Starting Thursday, March 1, the Goethe-Institut is presenting a mini-festival of Ottinger's work, including Under Snow (and Nomad from the Lake), both March 1; Exile Shanghai on Tuesday, March 6; and Joan of Arc of Mongolia on Thursday, March 8. All screenings take place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W. Do yourself a favour and open a brand new Pandora's Box of films, all from a female perspective, and all pretty unique.