Remembering Ingeborg Bachmann (1926 – 1973)

Film, Readings, Discussion


Doors: 7.00pm

£5 in advance (click here); £6.50 on door

Malina (Werner Schroeter, Austria / Germany, 1991) 118mins, with Isabelle Huppert

In collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum, to whom many thanks (

40 years on from the all-too-early death (17.10.73) of the great Austrian poet, novelist and dramatist Ingeborg Bachmann, a very rare screening of legendary New German Cinema director Werner Schroeter’s adaptation of her most famous novel, adapted by Nobel prize-winner Elfriede Jelinek and starring Isabelle Huppert, who gives a ferocious, stops-out performance as a philosophy professor driven mad by her love for two men in Schroeter's literally incendiary plunge into desire, dissolution and death.

The screening will be accompanied by an introduction to Bachmann’s work and selected readings of her work by invited guests.

“In Ivan I have lived, in Malina I will be dying.” This is the unusual story of the triangular relationship of a woman who lives with a man named Malina in Vienna. She is infatuated when she meets Ivan, who is going to be her last passionate love. Her feelings are so strong and all-encompassing that Ivan can neither understand nor return them. Love is all this film is about, showing the loneliness of the one who loves.

“Scripted by Elfriede Jelinek, and featuring an original avant-garde score by Giacomo Manzoni, it stars Isabelle Huppert as an unnamed female writer caught between passion and creativity, and between her platonic love for the rational Malina (Mathieu Carrière) and her consuming desire for the sensual Ivan (Can Togay). This is represented not as a conventional ménage à trois but rather as a visual and sonic staging of (literally) burning passion and glacial voids that lead to the disintegration of the writer’s identity. On a psychoanalytic level Ivan is a projection of a desire for absolute erotic love, while Malina represents the rational male alter-ego that clashes with the female emotional ego and finally obliterates the female identity—suggesting that it is only possible to be a writer at the expense of femininity and desire.

Huppert’s tour-de-force performance of exaltation and self-destructive despair is familiar from Schroeter’s repertoire, and so is the film’s nonlinear narrative with its operatic climaxes—albeit now psychologically motivated as nightmares and hallucinations. With its musical cadences and its mise en scène of ornate mirrors and consuming fires, Schroeter’s Malina transforms Bachman’s literary text into an idiosyncratic spectacle and aural feast. Despite receiving mixed reviews in Germany, the film won the German Film Award.” – Film Comment

Ingeborg Bachmann is one of the most important German language writers in the post-war era. Having risen to fame primarily on account of her poetry during her own lifetime she is now as well-known for her prose works and her unfinished Todesarten-Projekt (Ways of Dying Project).

Bachmann was born in Klagenfurt, Carinthia (Austria’s southern-most state that borders on Slovenia and Italy) in 1926. She left in 1945 to study first in Innsbruck and Graz and from 1946 in Vienna, where she was awarded her doctorate in Philosophy in 1950. She quickly became integrated into various literary circles in Vienna and began publishing in literary journals. Bachmann navigated a difficult path as a female intellectual and writer in the largely male-dominated post-war German literary field, a confrontation whose traces resonate in Bachmann’s exploration of gender relations in her work.

In 1948 Bachmann met Paul Celan in Vienna and they commenced an ultimately doomed relationship that would have a profound effect on both their lives. Their poetic dialogue, however, lasted until Celan’s death in 1970. Bachmann’s Die Gestundete Zeit (Time on Loan, 1953) spoke of the historical calamity of the recent World War and its unconfronted traumas in Austria and Germany, as well as the new threats of the Cold War era. This first volume of poetry was a huge success. Bachmann was subsequently featured in all the major West German radio programmes and journals, and a cover on the well-known Hamburg weekly Der Spiegel in August 1954 secured her poetic fame.

In the summer of 1953 Bachmann moved to Rome, a city that would become her home more than any other. In 1956 she published her second volume of poetry Anrufung des Großen Bären (Invocation of the Great Bear) which is imprinted with the immediate sensory experience of Italy. The collection juxtaposes utopian images with vivid scenes of violence. Bachmann’s poetic voice is suffused with the awareness of the calamities of the 20th century, while still upholding the utopian vision of a better tomorrow.

In the 1960s Bachmann devoted herself primarily to writing prose, much of which would remain unfinished. Her Todesarten-Projekt (Ways of Dying Project) [1962-1973] constituted the mainstay of her literary preoccupations in the 1960s, conceived as a compendium documenting the everyday crimes and perpetuation of violence in ostensible peacetime. One way in which Bachmann saw violence perpetuated on a daily basis was in the relationship of men and women, asserting that fascism is the primary relationship between a man and a woman. Almost all the central protagonists of her Todesarten-Projekt are female, where the personal and political are very firmly intertwined. One completed novel (Malina, 1971), a collection of short stories (Simultan, 1972), and her Büchner prize text (Ein Ort für Zufälle; A Place for Coincidences (1965), where Bachmann presents Cold War Berlin as a pathogenic city haunted by its past), were published from the project during Bachmann’s lifetime.

She had a deep understanding of music, striving for a union of music and poetry in her work, and collaborated with the composer Hans Werner Henze on two libretti. Bachmann died in October 1973, aged forty-seven, following a fire accident in her Rome apartment. Her work had a profound influence both on contemporary writers (such as Erich Fried, Christa WolfThomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek), as well as on composers (Hans Werner Henze), and artists (Anselm Kiefer).