Documentary filmmaker Ruth Beckermann attempts to make a dramatically compelling film out of two actors (Laurence Rupp and Anja Plaschg) sat in a recording studio reciting decades-old letters…and the results are strictly for “specialist interest” as you might expect.
The recitals cover two decades of lettered correspondence between Paul Celan (performed by Rupp), a concentration camp survivor who eventually become a poet, and Ingeborg Bachmann (performed by Plaschg), a writer whose father happened to be a Nazi. With various circumstances keeping them apart over the years, the pair find comfort (and heartbreak, of course), in their regular writings to one another.
To Beckermann’s credit, this isn’t a movie that pretends to be something it isn’t and blindsides audiences with its formal, quasi-documentary approach. For the most part it’s just two actors reading into microphones, and as dry as that sounds (and frequently is), it is at least a unique means to examine the rollercoaster of emotions that distance (not to mention love) creates; the audience is placed at an arm’s length to the people involved just as they are from one another. As such, Beckermann has captured longing in an intriguing new way, but is it really enough?
Sadly not, as the movie’s style is basically anathema to cinematic filmmaking, and this approach would probably have better lent itself to a radio play for all the power the visuals conjure. Sure, the two performers are able to show a little more character in the brief breaks between readings, as the human actors transpire through while discussing their own interpretations of the texts, but these moments are sadly quite few and far between.
The almost machine-like efficiency of the readings quickly becomes monotonous, which a shame given the two rock solid central performances. It feels like a mountain climb even at less than 90 minutes in length, and a more straight-up dramatic re-enactment would almost certainly have proven more effective.
For all but the most tolerant of audiences, The Dreamed Ones invites ennui more than profound emotion, and will probably prove paradoxically dense and spare all at once.
The Dreamed Ones premieres at the London Film Festival on October 6th