Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Left-Handed Woman (Peter Handke, 1977)


Haven’t you noticed, asks the closing epigram of Peter Handke’s The Left-Handed Woman, that there is space only for the one who brings space himself…? Acknowledging that the precision of the subtitles may only extend so far, it’s an apt closure; the conversational tone emphasizing the film’s investigative qualities, its questioning of the interplay between inner and outer lives. The choice of “himself” could be puzzling in this context, and yet the credits that follow identify Edith Clever’s protagonist only as “die Frau,” even though the film itself does give her a name, Marianne; her husband on the other hand is identified as “Bruno,” the same name as the actor playing him, Bruno Ganz, seemingly setting out its own little puzzle regarding the relative identifiability and tangibility of the two character/actor presences. The film revolves around a German couple living in Paris (summing up the pervasive sense of dislocation) – he returns from a business trip to Finland professing his renewed joy in their relationship, to which she soon responds by instigating a split; he moves out and she goes on living in their house with their young son, gradually constructing a revised personal and social equilibrium. Marianne talks very little (her first words come so far into the film that one might have assumed her to be mute) and explains herself less, demanding that we take her on her own terms, an act of feminist sympathy which however does carry the offsetting effect of rendering her something of an abstraction (her relationship with her main female friend Franziska is also one of few words, although provides a key moment of validation when, after earlier flailing to understand Marianne’s choices, Franziska finally allows that “now even I want to be alone”). But it’s a satisfying film overall, with numerous secondary mysteries including the brief presence of Gerard Depardieu, billed as “Mann mit dem T-shirt,” which indeed sums up his contribution exactly.

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