The Death of Maria Malibran

The Death of Maria Malibran
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The Death of Maria Malibran

La figura storica della cantante Maria Malibran è il punto di partenza per una rete fitta di rimandi e allusioni a Goethe, Lautréamont, Elvis Presley e Janis Joplin. Una serie di tableaux vivants che illustrano la vita e la morte della più celebre cantante d’opera del diciannovesimo secolo. (FQFF)




A typical early film by Schroeter that strings together a series of images to explore a subject. This one depicts the life of the famous drama-queen opera singer through strange episodes, from endless footage of people in heavy makeup and various sets, singing and acting melodramatically, to a scene of a woman melodramatically following and begging a man in the street as he walks away, to a strange expressionistic meeting between a white-faced man (death?) and a woman in a snowy forest, various other artsy performances and odds and ends, to a scene of death that made me think of Monty Python’s sketch on ‘deaths of famous people’ and that this is what they were making fun of. (Imdb)


The Death of Maria Malibran’ is a very strange film. After I have seen this movie twice, I still know very little about Maria Malibran. Everything that happens in this film is beyond my understanding. When I walked out of the cinema, I felt like waking up from a dream. I remember the dream quite clearly, but I don’t understand what happens in it, and why it happens like that. All I know is that this is the most enjoyable dream I have ever had in my whole life.
Though I never like opera, I still love this film very much. Though I don’t understand what is the plot or the story behind this film, it captivates me entirely. The photography, the art direction, the lighting, and the make-up are of excellent quality. The acting, the editing, and the music are exceptional too. I like it very much that the camera often focuses on the expression on characters’ faces. This technique both heighten the beauty of the image, and make it look very funny at the same time. I also like the movement and the positions of characters in each frame very much.
However, `The Death of Maria Malibran’ is not just a very strange film. It is not just a film full of beautiful images and beautiful soundtracks. It is not just an experimental film. It means much more than that to me. Many images in this film touch me so strongly that I can’t imagine how I can adequately express how much I like it. More importantly, I was completely surprised and overwhelmed with joy to find that many images in this film are somehow like what my friends and I have been fantasizing for a long time. Werner Schroeter is the first guy that I know who can make our fantasy come true.
`The Death of Maria Malibran’ really expands the boundary of cinematic empire in my viewing experience. I have never known nor imagined one can make a movie like this. But now that I know a film like this really exists, my hope and my faith in the potential of cinema are restored, and I will go to see a movie with much more excitement and eagerness than before. Cinema can prove itself to me again that it is really unpredictable. (sleepsev, Imdb)

This bizarre film by one of the most original directors now working in Germany is hermetic, expressionist, oblique, and of a creative perversity that bespeaks the presence of a genius. Purporting to deal with a real-life 19th century diva ‘whose popularity was such that over-exertion led to her death while singing,’ the film is actually a grisly series of frozen or tortured tableaux (predominantly lesbian in implication) of heavily rouged, frequently ugly women who, pretending to sing heavy opera, go through contorted, icy attempts at communication that lead nowhere. The lip-sync is off; the singing is off-pitch; mouths are frequently open while no sound issues forth, or closed, with mellifluous arias or cheap popular songs heard on scratchy renditions of old records. Neither burlesque nor slapstick, the film’s intent, at least in the beginning, is nevertheless ironical and subversive, though mysteriously so. However, it grows increasingly dark and more threatening, with screams, faces bathed in Vaseline, red, wet mouths, smeared eye shadows, and dehumanized figures. One cannot ‘explain’ Schroeter’s work, other than recognize his debunking of opera as a metaphorical rejection of bourgeois society; but one trembles in recognition of a prospective major talent.” (Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art)

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