The left-handed woman (Die linkshaendige Frau) de Wim Wenders - Peter Handke
En allemand avec sous-titres francais , 1977, 119 min., en couleurs,
avec : Bruno Ganz, Edith Clever, Gerard Depardieu.

Based on the novel (1976) of the same name by Peter Handke, the film focuses on Marianne who suddenly, without apparent reason, asks for a separation from her husband to lead her own life. Influenced by Wim Wenders, the film was surrounded in controversy at its German release, primarily due to the film=s sense of coldness and sterility. =What I am really striving to attain is monotony in its most intensive form.= (Handke) =A daring and beautiful movie sustained with the high confidence of art=. (Roger Angell, The New Yorker) =that rare thing, a genuinely poetic movie= (J. Hobermann, Village Voice, 7 April, 1980) (more)

A Paris suburb: the woman, aged around thirty, has led a perfectly normal married life; her husband works for a branch of a major European company and travels a great deal. Marianne and Bruno are not exactly unhappy anand at least the couple=s relationship is not strained by external crises. One morning, after spending the night together in a hotel as Bruno has just returned from one of his business trips, Marianne surprises him with a seemingly spontaneous decision: she demands that he should go away and leave her alone with their eight-year-old son. At first, the man accedes to her request without objection; his later somewhat half-hearted attempts to return prove fruitless. It is the beginning of solitude for the woman, the boy and the man. Marianne has given up her everyday life and her security; she sets out carefully and determinedly to lead her own life. She informs a publisher that she has finally found the time to accept his offer and translate French books; her first translation is Flaubert=s novel =A simple heart=. On one occasion she visits Bruno in his office, on another he appears in her flat one night and insults her. Marianne=s father, a one-time author, visits her and prophesies that she will end up just like him.

According to Peter Handke, his tale =Die linkshaendige Frau= (=The left-handed woman=), which was published in 1976, relates the story of a planned film project that had not yet been realized. =The story started with a picture, one winter about five years ago,= explains Handke. =I had been living in a new housing estate near the Taunus hills to the north of Frankfurt for some time. It was dusk and I was at the bottom of the estate; the houses, mostly L-shaped buildings nestling one against the other, rose up the hillside in terraces. Immediately behind the houses there was a mixed wood stretching up the hill to the summit, almost one thousand metres above sea level. Lights burned in some of the buildings and women could be seen through some of the windows; the men tended not to return from work until later. The sky was not quite dark, with large bright clouds; underneath was the grey and brown forest, then the houses with a few women: their very difference created a togetherness and at that moment I knew that I had a story to tell and that I had now found the all-embracing picture that belonged with it. In fact, the picture was such that the story presented itself as a picture.= Other similar pictures followed, details which ultimately combined into a story for the author, a story which arose =surprisingly, yet totally naturally, out of strictly petty everyday life=.

DIE LINKSHAENDIGE FRAU aroused considerable controversy when it first appeared in German cinemas. What was indisputable was Wim Wenders= influence on Handke as director (the film was produced by Wim Wenders), whereas formerly it was the author=s influence on Wenders as director that was frequently mentioned. The controversies started with the production. Some critics claimed that Handke=s images were sterile and even artificial, while other found it remarkable how Handke had evoked a sense of sterility, coldness and desolation in his scenes. The remote coldness with which the author seems to treat his figures in the texts is certainly also to be found in the film. Emotions are not discussed or described and they are hardly conveyed through gestures or mimicry. The figures= emotions are reflected much more strongly in their factual actions and not least in the very quiet, almost uniform passage of time. =What I am really striving to attain is monotony in its most intensive form,= explained Handke. Monotony not in the sense of boredom, but as a form of ascetic concentration on elementary processes.

Handke is consequently not interested in great psychological motives. He reports the woman=s decision, but the reasons behind it must be developed in the viewer=s mind. Indications are only to be found later, such as during the separated couple=s subsequent meetings. =I have never yet met a woman who has permanently changed her life,= says Bruno to Marianne. With these words, the man involuntarily defines his own supposedly superior attitude. The real reasons are concealed in the images which are sometimes strung together seemingly unrelated and yet in some way mysteriously related. One night, a body noiselessly falls past Marianne=s windows, descending into the depths. =Just because Handke makes the Earth, people and objects appear skeletal, stripped of their familiar nearness and significance so that they seem cold and alien, this does not mean that they are seen with cold eyes, although his glance is certainly penetrating, searching and absolute.= (Peter Hamm)
Hans Guenther Pflaum 


Femme Gauchere (Die linkshaendige Frau) de Wim Wenders - Peter Handke
En allemand avec sous-titres francais , 1977, 119 min., en couleurs,
avec : Bruno Ganz, Edith Clever, Gerard Depardieu.

Base sur le roman du meme titre de Peter Handke (1976), La Femme gauchere raconte l=histoire de Marianne, qui soudain et sans raison apparente demande le divorce de son mari pour mener sa propre vie. Influence par Wim Wenders, ce film a seme la controverse lors de sa sortie en Allemagne, et ce particulierement en raison de la froideur et l=anonymite qui s=en degagent. Ce que je m=efforce vraiment d=obtenir c=est la monotonie dans sa forme la plus intense. (Handke) Un film audacieux et magnifique soutenu par la grande assurance de l=art. (Roger Angell, The New Yorker) une chose rare, un vrai film poetique (H. Hobermann, Village Voice, 7 avril 1980) (plus)

Dans une banlieue de Paris, une femme d=une trentaine d=annees a mene une vie conjugale tout a fait normale; son mari travaille dans la succursale d=une grande societe europeenne et se deplace beaucoup. La vie de Marianne et Bruno n=est pas malheureuse, et du moins aucune crise exterieure ne vient peser sur la relation du couple. Un beau matin, apres une nuit commune passee a l=hotel, Bruno etant juste rentre d=un voyage d=affaires, Marianne le surprend par une decision qu=elle semble avoir prise spontanement. Elle le prie de partir et de la laisser seule avec leur fils de huit ans. Dans un premier temps, le mari donne suite a sa demande sans s=y opposer, quelques tentatives ulterieures de retour, effectuees sans grande conviction, restent infructueuses. C=est ainsi que commence la solitude de la femme, de l=enfant et de l=homme. Marianne a laisse derriere elle sa vie de tous les jours et sa securite; prudemment, mais fermement decidee, elle commence sa propre vie. Elle informe un editeur avoir enfin le temps d=accepter sa proposition de traduire des livres du francais; son premier travail est la traduction de =Un cafeur simple= de Flaubert. Une fois, Marianne vient voir Bruno dans son bureau, une autre fois, c=est Bruno qui surgit la nuit dans son appartement pour l=insulter. Le pere de Marianne, un ancien ecrivain, vient lui rendre visite et lui predit: =Tu finiras comme moi!=

Le roman =La Femme gauchere= de Peter Handke, paru en 1976, etait selon l=auteur le compte-rendu d=un projet de film qu=il avait prevu mais pas encore realise. =L=histoire=, dit Handke, =commenca par une image en hiver, voici cinq ans environ. A l=epoque, j=habitais depuis un certain temps dans une nouvelle cite du Taunus, au nord de Francfort. C=etait pendant le crepuscule, et je me trouvais au pied de la cite; les maisons, en general des constructions ressemblant a des bo tes en forme de L, etaient superposees en terrasses, tout de suite derriere commencait une foret mixte, recouvrant jusqu=au sommet une montagne d=environ mille metres de haut. Quelques lumieres etaient deja allumees dans les botes, et ca et la, on pouvait voir une femme; les hommes ne rentreraient que tard du travail. Le ciel n=etait pas encore completement sombre, mais couvert de gros nuages clairs; dessous s=etendait la foret grise et brune; encore plus bas, les maisons comme des botes avec ces quelques femmes isolees: cette diversite formait un tout, et je savais a cet instant que je devais raconter une histoire dont j=avais deja le cadre sous les yeux; et le decor etait tel que l=histoire elle aussi prit la forme d=un tableau.= D=autres images semblables vinrent s=ajouter, des details qui pour l=auteur s=assemblerent finalement pour former une histoire resultant =de facon tout aussi surprenante que naturelle de la stricte banalite quotidienne.=

Quand DIE LINKSHAENDIGE FRAU sortit dans les cinemas allemands, le film ne fit pas l=unanimite. L=influence de Wim Wenders (producteur du film) sur la realisation de Handke etait indiscutable - alors qu=auparavant, il avait souvent ete question de l=influence de l=ecrivain sur Wenders le realisateur. Les opinions divergeaient en ce qui concernait la mise en scene. Certains critiques reprochaient aux images de Handke une sterilite, voire meme un art decoratif, d=autres trouvaient justement remaquable la facon dont Handke faisait passer l=impression de sterilite, de froideur et de detresse dans ses scenes. Il est certain que la lointaine froideur de l=auteur face a ses personnages qui perce dans ses textes se retrouve aussi dans le film: les emotions ne font pas l=objet de discussions, ne sont pas formulees, et a peine refletees par les gestes et les jeux de physionomie. Les emotions qui poussent les personnages a agir se traduisent plutot par leurs actes, et a un degre non moindre par le temps qui s=ecoule tres calmement, presque uniformement. =A vrai dire, ce que je recherche=, expliquait Handke, =c=est la monotonie la plus intense possible.=. Pas dans le sens d=ennui, mais au service d=une concentration ascetique sur les evenements elementaires.

C=est ainsi que Handke ne s=interesse pas non plus aux grandes motivations psychologiques. Il constate la decision de la femme, mais ses explications doivent d=abord natre dans la tete du spectateur. Ce n=est qu=apres, par exemple lors de nouvelles rencontres du couple separe, que nous trouvons quelques indices. Bruno dit a Marianne: =Je n=ai encore jamais rencontre une femme qui ait change sa vie de facon durable.=. Ainsi, l=homme definit involontairement sa propre position qu=il concoit comme une superiorite. Mais les veritables explications sont renfermees dans les images qui parfois semblent ajoutees les unes aux autres sans aucun rapport, tout en restant mysterieusement reliees entre elles. Une nuit, un corps passe sans bruit devant la fenetre de Marianne avant de s=ecraser sur le sol. =Le fait que la terre, les gens et les choses semblent chez Handke reduits a leur plus simple charpente, denues de la proximite et de la signification familieres, froids et etrangers, ne signifie pas que le regard auquel ils sont exposes soit froid. Mais il est penetrant, chercheur, absolu.= (Peter Hamm)
Hans Guenther Pflaum



Richard Raskin

The first two films Agnes Godard shot as a camerawoman are among those most highly respected for the quality of their images: The Belly of an Architect (1987) directed by Peter Greenaway, and Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire (1987). Even earlier, as a camera assistant, Agnes Godard had already worked on two other films by Wenders: The State of Things (1982) and Paris, Texas (1984). And more recently, she has worked as director of photography for Agnes Varda, Peter Handke and Claire Denis.
RR: As I mentioned in my letter, Wim Wenders stated in an interview that you didn't entirely agree as to the way in which the scene with the dying motorcycle man should be filmed, and that in your view, the camera movement in this scene wasn't entirely justified.

AG: I was astonished when you told me that since I had no recollection of it at all. I was so astonished that I tried to think back to what might have been in question, and in fact, it's true and it's connected to several different issues.

To begin with, it was only my second film as camera operator. So I was a bit intimidated by it all. Secondly, it was at the start of the shooting, and I don't think I had realized at that point to what degree Wim knew what the camera saw. Something about the camera movement seemed a bit risky to me and scared me, because I wasn't quite able to see in it as clear and perfectly logical (=Cartesian=) a purpose, though that of course was not the nature of the film, which is poetic. But that's what had frightened me.

It was difficult to carry out technically because of the equipment. The camera was on a dolly on tracks, and in order to keep it low enough, that is at the eye level of people seated on the ground, it had to be mounted on what we call a =swan neck= - a brace which enables you to keep the camera in a very low position. The camera moved, it descended, from a rather high to a low position, and I had to do a balancing act. It was quite uncomfortable and I was afraid of not executing the movement in a fluid way.

And also there [in Berlin], I couldn't follow what was being said, I didn't understand [the language] well enough to grasp what was really happening. I think the technical worries got to me most... It was a cause of some anxiety for me.

The need to include the young man within the frame - I had understood him to be the son of the man who was dying - to include him in the image, not in a chancy way but to have him arrive in view because life is a string of things like that, of things hanging by a thread... that seemed difficult to me. Not a second too soon nor a second too late, but at the one right moment. And I was afraid of not being able to translate that and of losing - in the reframing of the shot - what I had done to capture it in relation to that swaying motion which, after a while, I understood to be like heartbeats that were slowing down.

RR: Do you see those camera movements as open to other interpretations as well?

AG: I never had a chance to discuss these things with Wim during the shooting; obviously, that would have been impossible. My understanding - and this came afterwards - is that the camera had to move in order not to be dead before the character. That's what I felt, in the rhythm, like a heartbeat that might stop at any moment. But we don't see it stop, there's no melodrama here.

When I saw the film, I also loved the cut to the following shot: of the angel filmed in a slightly high angle tracking shot as he walks on the bridge. Life went on with that walking, which ends when a train passes, heading elsewhere. Death was part of life.

At the time of the shooting, I had not yet realized to what degree Wim knows what he has within the frame, whether the camera is stationary or moving. I have never seen anyone know the way he did what you see with a 25 mm, a 32, a 40, a 50. He sees where the camera is, he knows where [the visual field] begins and ends. It's quite extraordinary.

RR: When I asked him why the camera moved back and forth, he proposed two explanations: 1) that in some way, those camera movements expressed the pain Damiel experienced; and 2) =I thought that going left to right sort of showed more what Damiel was actually doing, in the way that he's sort of taking over the dying man, so to speak. In a strange way, it was in that camera movement.=

AG: Yes, I see. It was somewhat in that sense that I mentioned heartbeats. But like something throbbing. For example, I have on several occasions seen people in psychiatric hospitals, and when their pain is throbbing, sometimes they shift their weight from one foot to another. It's a little like that. And with that pain, it was not an altogether normal heartbeat. Something was ending. And in fact, cutting to Damiel walking on the bridge was in a sense accepting that [the dying man] has passed away, perhaps... But we don't see it end. Life goes on, through Damiel, who knew perhaps before anyone else that it was going to end. That's why we don't need to see it end.

RR: Wenders also said that originally, the shot which began on the bridge was supposed to continue without any cutting, but that it was physically impossible since the camera-car couldn't make the turn as tightly as would have been necessary.

AG: Yes. The shot depended on the route of the car and the movement of the camera. The camera was mounted on the front of the car which had to be driven at high speed. At the place where the wounded man was lying, the road was damaged - the car couldn't really turn - and the maximum breadth of the pan was insufficient. The shot couldn't be done the way Wim wanted it at the end of this ride on the bridge. He must have felt the need to find some other way of enriching what was to follow.

RR: If the camera had not been moved back and forth, from left to right, would the shot have been too static?

AG: Yes, I think so. I think it would almost have been a pleonasm with the text. But being in motion, for whatever reason, something magical happens, it enables the words to breathe and we accept the duration. It's very strange. Because the words are after all quite poetic, even though they are almost everyday words, and it makes them breathe, it brings them to life while evoking the notion of duration. And Wim alone had foreseen that.

And for me, it's also expressive of fragility: one fine day, those words can vanish, without our giving them a thought; at any given second, it can all stop. For me, it also expressed something of that kind.

During the shooting, I didn't enjoy [the spoken words] as fully as I do now because it was in German and I had trouble understanding it. I should add that when Bruno [Ganz] spoke while being filmed, there was so much music in it that even though I couldn't understand everything he said, I was carried away. But I didn't have any insight into its meaning. So I had some worries that Wim must have sensed. It isn't entirely wrong to say that I didn't agree since I asked myself: =Is it certain that this is the right way to do the shot?=

RR: When I showed this scene to my students, some of them said that the back and forth movement of the camera was an oscillation between life and death, and that even the fact that the action takes place at the end of a bridge is significant in that respect. Does that strike you as entirely mistaken?

AG: No, I don't think it's mistaken. As a matter of fact, the richness of many of the shots and of the =mise en images= in general in this film, springs from the fact that you can sometimes find an unlimited number of explanations or images of that kind, because what is said and the manner in which it is filmed are so perfectly suited to one another. That's truly beautiful. Granted, you can also arrive at some far fetched interpretations, but basically, what really counts is that so many things be suggested that each person can find in it his or her own explanation, and that's magnificent. That means that the implement called cinema is there in all its plenitude, and it's wonderful that each of us can find his or her own explanation. That's what makes images come to life. For me, that's the magic of cinema: that from something lifeless and impalpable, there is a moment in which sensation and emotion are created, and that it is possible to make images live beyond their texture. In this film, I think that that happens to a fascinating degree.

RR: Was the path of the camera movements in this shot slightly curved?

AG: No, it wasn't curved, it was a traveling in a straight line. The effects man was really extraordinary. He also knew exactly what was in the frame of the camera. But Wim was there and he was the conductor... For him, there is an intellectual investigation in play, since he knows very well what meaning this kind of thing can produce. Often, and sometimes for extended periods, he asked himself questions. But at a certain point, I think a certain intuition comes and he trusts it. It's quite strong. In that respect, he has a special contact with the space seen through a lens.

RR: Did you need to do more than one take for that shot?

AG: Yes, we did several takes. I'm not sure how many. Probably about five or six.

RR: But all done in about the same way?

AG: Yes... I wanted to add something about the camera movements and that kind of intuition. The exceptional quality of the =mise en images= in this film is also due to camera movements that are sometimes quite sophisticated, without ever appearing to be so. It was never the camera that set feelings in motion. It's more subtle than that... And I was afraid that in reframing the shot, in going after the young man, we were imposing - by the very fact that we went looking for him, that we were reframing the angel and the dying man - that we were pulling the strings of the story. It seemed preferable to me that it be the chain of events by themselves, that Damiel was someone who, by nature, was always there at the right time, and that that was the chain of events.

RR: Another piece of information Wim Wenders gave me: he said that when he realized that he couldn't continue the shot on the bridge, that he stood before the two actors and looked at them through a viewfinder, moving to the right and to the left in search of the right place to position the camera. And in this way, he conceived the idea...

AG: Yes, a viewfinder, that's wonderful. He must have been trying out different positions. Yes, that doesn't surprise me. (Laughter). That goes to show that Wim does a kind of preparatory work which reflects a concern for precision. But he is also capable of always remaining open to what is going on at the very moment... And what you are telling me now is the proof of that. I think it's brilliant.

RR: In the library scene, what interests me particularly is the fact that instead of constructing the point of view figure in the classic fashion - first showing the eyes that are looking, then cutting to what those eyes are seeing - here we begin with the point of view shots and then the person through whose eyes we are seeing enters his own point of view. This choice of combining in a single shot what the character sees and the character who is seeing, is extraordinary. Not many directors do that.

Yes. [...] I remember that during the first rehearsal of that scene, at the moment of transition from the woman-angel to the entrance of the two men into the visual field, I discovered something magical [in the shot]. And for the first time (I had not been a camera woman for very long), I had the impression that this required looking in a different way through the camera. In other words, going along with the meaning of the action... It was no longer a matter of technique, but rather a kind of poetry in play. I don't know how to explain it. For me, all of a sudden, an understanding that every movement of the camera had a meaning and that it meant something other than itself.

This was an incredible sensation and it frightened me because I felt charged with a very important obligation: to do it well because it was extremely important in this film. I felt I understood everything Wim worried about when making this film and the questions he asked himself concerning the =mise en images=. [...]

Paris, 27 January 1994
[1]This interview was published in French and under the title =Faire vivre les images= in (Pre)publications 142 (February 1994), pp. 42-56. The present translation is my own.

May 09, 1988