How on earth does one attempt to describe a movie like this? First, a caveat or two: do not go to this film expecting any sort of plot, or even coherent narrative; do not expect any information about Maria Malibran's life, or even her death, for that matter (she died of complications from a horseback riding accident--one could never guess this from the film); do not expect any sense of what it is to be a singer, or any sense of opera as an art form; do not even expect to have any clear idea which face on the screen is supposed to be Maria Malibran.
Obviously, this film was an utter, confused mystery to me. A few arresting images (and a bunch of commonplace and pointless ones) are all well and good, but one needs some sort of structure (even the suggestion of a guideline would have been welcome) to hang them on in order for them to have any real power. I'll do my best to describe the opening 15 minutes or so of the film as I remember it (it's been almost 15 years.....it's stayed with me this long, so it must have had something to it, but god knows what)......there are two female heads, from about the shoulders up, in the frame leaning in from either side toward each other at odd angles. The faces are made up with powder (complete with a beauty mark or two) and both appear to be wearing 18th-cent.-style wigs, suggesting stage costuming (or court dress) of some kind. In the background, a muted, scratchy recording of a chunk of the first movement of Beethoven's Triple Concerto is playing (which goes back to some point part-way-through the movement several times, in case you didn't hear it the first time, presumably--and this not any sort of logical edit we're talking about). There is no dialogue, no movement (perhaps the heads do, VERY slowly, lean imperceptibly toward each other...it's difficult to know for sure). This goes on for 15 minutes or so. That's it. The effect would be mind-numbing if it weren't so annoying. It then shifts to something else completely, and someone finally says something, but one is so busy trying to figure out what Schroeter could have possibly meant to convey by that impossibly long opening exercise that it's difficult settle into any sort of "groove" with it. Nothing is explained, almost nothing is suggested, and what is suggested is done so with no frame of reference, making the "suggestions" ultimately meaningless.
Perhaps the key is to experience this film "as a dream". I, for one, do not experience art that way (and this film certainly has pretensions to "art"!), and would suggest that if it has nothing more to offer than a bunch of dream-like images and sequences with no apparent connection, subtext, or or even frame of reference, then it's not art in the first place. Which leaves the question, "What is it?"
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