Part Of The Picture: Light and Shadow

Posted on June 25, 2010

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LIGHT AND SHADOW

JUN 26, 2010 – SITTING OPPOSITE THE MILDLY BEWILDERED sports journalist Robert Krohn (Hilmar Thate), Veronika Voss (Rosel Zech) does her darnedest to give a performance at a hotel cafeteria. The role is that of an actress, once the cynosure of flashbulbs, now dismissed to the shadows of memory. Veronika, of course, is too much of a narcissist to really be a recluse. She just needs an excuse to remain unflustered when not recognised, any more, in public. Referring to Robert’s gallantry in extending an umbrella when she was trapped in a downpour, Veronika trills, “Let me tell you, it was a joy for me that someone should take care of me without knowing I’m Veronika Voss, and how famous I am. I felt like a human being again. A human being.”

But almost instantly, she turns back into a star, complaining about the harsh light and insisting to their waiter that candles be lit instead. Her face now bathed in lambent flickers, Veronika instructs Robert about the two secrets of motion pictures. “Light and shadow.” As if foreshadowing this future revelation, the opening credits appear with a shadow beneath the text, and when they end, a curtain parts to reveal more light and shadow, this time in a movie theatre, where the light from the screen casts flickering shadows on the audience, Veronika amidst them. She looks at herself on screen, in a film titled Insidious Poison. Her pained reactions to the proceedings suggest more than just empathy for her character, an addict craving a fix.

On screen, the addict pleads with a forbidding woman in white, “Help me! Help me! I can’t stand this pain! It’s tearing me apart, devouring me, destroying me. I beg you! Have mercy! I’ll give you everything I possess. Everything I am.” The woman in white remarks, “Very well, then. Everything.” She goes towards her desk and begins to draw liquid into a syringe, as the addict stumbles towards a piece of paper and signs over her “everything.” The needle plunges into the addict’s arm and she finally begins to relax. “Thank you. Now I belong to you. Everything I have belongs to you. All I have left to give you is my death.” The woman in white remarks, “I can do without a cheap present like that.”

We’re no longer inside the movie screen but inside a studio, the last few exchanges having seamlessly transported us (and Veronika) from illusion to reality (and from present to past). She stands in front of the director of Insidious Poison reciting her lines. The shooting ends amidst an array of klieg lights, each one dazzling like a star. This is the lighting pattern that will inform the “past” sequences, with Veronika and her screenwriter-husband, who now says he’s proud of her. She tells the director, “It’s not just his screenplay. It’s his love that gives me strength.” They’ve split up since then. His love no longer gives her strength and she’s turned to morphine. That’s why, in the present, she reacts the way she does to that scene from Insidious Poison. It’s not just a movie. It’s her life.

Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (1982, German, English; aka Veronika Voss). Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Starring Rosel Zech, Hilmar Thate, Cornelia Froboess.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign