Postwar Austria has produced an uncommon generation of uncompromising artists, filmmakers, and writers. Like author Efriede Jelinek, with whom she has collaborated, VALIE EXPORT’s break with the generation that presided over the second world war often takes the form of a bold, bitter feminism. But EXPORT, emerging with a newly self-determined name from the Aktionist milieu of 1967 Vienna, channeled her deadly serious purposes through playful experimentation with performance, expanded cinema, and a seemingly-effortless ability to extend her genre-bending narratives through constant visual and conceptual invention. Even amidst the broad radical cinema of 60s and 70s Europe, EXPORT’s work stands out as utterly singular, and as riveting today as ever.
Thanks to Women Make Movies and Facets.
Aka Unsichtbare Gegner.
Dir. VALIE EXPORT, 1976.
Austria, 104 min.
TUESDAY, JULY 5 – 10:00 PM
TUESDAY, JULY 12 – 7:30 PM
THURSDAY, JULY 28 – 10:00 PM
SUNDAY, JULY 31 – 7:30 PM
Following a mysterious radio news report, photographer and artist Anna realizes that the city of Vienna, and the larger world, have been infiltrated by the “Hyksos”, shadowy extraterrestrials able to infiltrate human bodies and control thought. Once her eyes have been opened, the signs are everywhere: strange encounters on the street, turmoil at home and abroad, and, soon, the crumbling of her relationship with her boyfriend, played by artist Peter Weibel, who co-wrote the film with EXPORT and drew from their own by then over relationship history. As an artist, Anna does all that she can to observe, document, and attempt to extract what may be real and what is all in her head.
But this is neither INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS, nor domestic melodrama (though encompassing bits of both), and no synopsis can truly capture the experience of watching INVISIBLE ADVERSARIES, which seamlessly blends the personal, the political, and the experimental. Anna’s mental states and deteriorating sense of identity are conveyed through disorienting (or satiric) intercuts, the interposition of still photography, hallucinatory interpositions, mirrors, projected film, glaringly non-diegetic sound design, discontinuities in time and place, and paranoid confluences of chance. But the reality of Anna’s condition is ultimately besides the point in the face of the larger world that fuels it: we don’t need the pat explanation of the Hyksos to recognize the larger social and societal issues that whirl through the film.
Following the film’s release, the conservative Austrian public and tabloid press branded the film’s frank and still-refreshing female view of sexuality as “pornographic”, EXPORT and Weibel’s politics as “terrorist”, and called for the resignation of the head of the state agency that had helped fund the film. EXPORT even received death threats. But the film’s notoriety was assured, and it played for 13 weeks in Viennese cinemas. Its unique power remains undiminished by the four decades since original release. An unmissable statement of art and identity in the face of an unstable world.
THE PRACTICE OF LOVE
Aka Die Praxis der Liebe.
Dir. VALIE EXPORT, 1984.
Austria, 91 min.
FRIDAY, JULY 1 – 7:30 PM
SATURDAY, JULY 16 – 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, JULY 24 – 7:30 PM
SATURDAY, JULY 30 – 7:30 PM
Drifting between two relationships, journalist Judith realizes by chance that she’s not the only link between her very different lovers. In fact, they may also both have known another man, now dead by supposed suicide beneath a train. Fascinated (and running into professional hurdles with a rejected story about pornography), Judith allows herself to be drawn deeper and deeper into a web of arms trafficking and deceit, attempting to piece together the story of his death across the personal and public spheres of her life.
In THE PRACTICE OF LOVE, VALIE EXPORT continues to interrogate body, identity and the dynamics of power, building upon her prior features, but here recomposing her questions as a taut political thriller. As clues and intrigues build up in a complex network, though, they serve not to elucidate the plot so much as EXPORT’s larger questions. And so the film’s noir structures, as well as the protagonist’s initial certainties, begin to fragment under internal conflicts, the indifference of power, systematic misogyny, and a battery of disorienting cinematographic techniques equal in creative force and inspiration to anything in her prior films. The film’s chronology skips forward and back, far-off violence infiltrates the streets of Vienna, the body is re-examined through photography and projection, and EXPORT demonstrates once again her rare facility in expressing essential ideas through radical techniques.
“A stunningly coherent indictment of male dominated society.” —Alison Butler, National Film Theatre, London.