May 9, 2006
Ticket of No Return, 1979
Invoking Rainer Werner Fassbinder's irreverent, artful kitsch, Federico Fellini's carnivalesque grotesquerie, and Werner Schroeter's impenetrable, autobiographical self-evidence, Ticket of No Return encapsulates the highly stylized, funny, frustrating, offbeat, decadent, intoxicating, and fevered delirium that is Ulrike Ottinger's cinema. A chronicle of an archetypally beautiful, impeccably dressed woman "of antique grace and raphaelic harmony" eponymously called 'She' (Tabea Blumenschein) who, as the film begins, decides to withdraw from her privileged life in La Rotunda and books a one-way ticket to Berlin-Tegel in order to follow her one true desire - to embark on a sightseeing drinking binge through the city - the film subverts the iconic images of Hollywood glamour queens and skid row drunkards with a parodic and egalitarian view of substance abuse through the perspective of an unapologetic, jet-setting, merry-making alcoholic and, in the process, confronts the hypocrisy of cultural attitudes towards the social consumption of alcohol. Occasionally crossing paths with a trio of uptight and judgmental, yet passive and unobtrusive public service matrons appropriately named Social Question (played by Schroeter's muse, Magdalena Montezuma), Accurate Statistics (Orpha Termin), and Common Sense (Monika von Cube) who provide a peripheral, Greek chorus-like commentary on the demographic research, anecdotal information, and physical and societal repercussions of alcohol abuse, the heroine defies all their impotent attempts at instilling the virtues of moderation and rehabilitation, and instead befriends a bag lady (Lutze) and subsequently molds her into her own image as a fashionable drunk, complete with haute couture clothing and a penchant for getting plastered on cognac and fine vintage wine. Wandering through the off-the-beaten-path streets of Berlin at dusk on a series of increasingly bizarre, surreal, and dissociative alcohol-infused, somnambulistic encounters - that include a gregarious chanteuse (played by German punk icon Nina Hagen), actor Eddie Constantine, and a performance artist (Wolf Vostell) wearing a bread-laden suit who slowly devours his own clothing - she begins to tempt fate with acts of recklessness (most notably, in a Felliniesque high-wire balancing act and a harrowing ride on the hood of a stunt car rushing headlong towards a fire-engulfed wall). But beyond these tongue-in-cheek acts of self-destruction is also the image of transparent division and distorted perception, illustrated through recurring visuals of liquid splashed onto glass walls and mirrors (note the heroine's face to face encounter with a window washer in the airport that is repeated in her encounter with the bag lady in a taxi as she attempts to clean the windows to solicit a handout, then subsequently, in their chance meeting at a café). It is this notion of shattered images and breakdown of illusion that is reflected in the corollary bookending shots (and distinctive shoe taps) of the heroine's disembodied high heeled legs walking away from the foreground of the frame - first, through the high gloss, marble floors of the travel agency foyer, and subsequently, the parting image of a glass-tiled floor crushing under the weight of her deliberate passage - the profound isolation and ironic lucidity of a free spirit in a society of cosmetic masks and conformist rituals.