Synopsis: A young, naive journalist in Hamburg decides to research and write about the biological impulses behind “romantic” love. When her attempts are fruitless, she decides to try her luck in San Francisco, where the search becomes a personal adventure. There she is introduced to San Francisco’s notorious lesbian scene, where she explores her own sexuality – and learns the ups and downs of romance.
eyelights: its artsy quality. the protagonist’s musings on relationships.
eyesores: its rambling, unfocused nature.
Monika Treut’s ‘Die Jungfrauen Maschine’ is a black and white, low budget German film from 1988 about Dorothee, a journalist trying to write a story about relationships. A romantic dreamer, disillusioned by her lack of success in relationships, she’s unable to get any traction: she spends much of her time walking and biking about Hamburg, pondering the intricacies of male-female attraction.
Meanwhile, she has an erotically charged, if not incestuous, relationship with her half-brother. And her ex, Heinz, still pines after her and consistently shows up in her life. Deciding that it could help her article, she goes to San Francisco to visit her mother, a former stripper, who moved there years ago. Sadly, she can’t find her, as she’s left without saying a word – or paying the last five month’s rent.
At her dingy hotel room, she sees a TV ad for a therapist who claims she can cure people of their addiction to Love. Intrigued, she calls and leaves the woman a request for an interview. While at the beach, she’s befriended by a world traveler currently settled in the area. Dominique can speak German, so they start to hang out; she is Dorothee’s only friend but she introduces her to a few people.
As Dorothee wanders the streets, she’s accosted by Susie Sexpert, who’s trying to peddle her strip-joint; she wants women to watch for once, not be the performers. She also shows her her dildo collection. She invites Dorothee to one of the strip shows, and she falls for the lead dancer, who’s dressed in drag and getting a rise out of the all-female audience (Personally, I didn’t understand the appeal whatsoever).
Well, it so happens that the dancer, Ramona, is the TV therapist – so they schedule a date. Dorothee is very excited about it and wondering if Ramona is equally nervous. Her attraction seemed to come out of nowhere, aside for a short moment in Hamburg when Dorothee went to a club and is seduced by the singer’s smokey voice. Was she always bi? Who knows… ‘Die Jungfrauen Maschine’ is not very clear about that.
Dorothee and Ramona hit it off right away, have fun, get affectionate, and go home together. Their lovemaking was totally staged, and shot in an artsy, expressionistic, manner. But it’s beautiful, languorous. It turns out that Ramona is just a high-priced call girl, of the “girlfriend experience” kind. Ouch. But, although Dorothee thought it was love, she has a laugh about it. She ends up doing a strip show at the club.
Mother must be proud.
Although it’s a bit disjointed and clearly cobbled together with limited means, what I liked about ‘Die Jungfrauen Maschine’ is that it appears to portray the San Francisco lesbian culture of the time, the friendships, relationships, the good times, relatively well. It felt very real to me, and I enjoyed that it seemed to capture a moment in time; it’s not something I can experience, but I know about it and that’s plenty.
I also enjoyed the surrealistic aspect of the picture, for example when Dorothee dreams about her brother, headless mechanical dummies flying about, insects, Heinz making love to her and blowing his nose. It was so bizarre, but captivating too. And then there were the exhibitionist neighbours at her hotel room who leave their door ajar so that people can see their BDSM activities (Treut is a big proponent of BDSM).
I did find the picture staged strangely at times, however, like when Dorothee goes to see her professor/boss and the camera closes in on her stares, while he’s picking away at food to an exotic soundtrack. Or a scene in which she takes scissors to Heinz’s face, in which he’s completely arched back away from the camera and she bends over him. Is she cutting his facial hair? We can’t tell what the heck is going on.
But, for some reason, that kind of weirdness appeals to me, much in the way that David Lynch’s odder moments appeal to me. It’s so unusual that it jogs you out of your complacency, forcing you to question what you’re seeing, to try to make sense of it. It completely makes up for the poor performances, and the DYI, partly random, nature of the film. And it has made me curious about Treut’s oeuvre, which has made of her a lesbian icon.
I can guarantee that I will get anything of hers that I can find.
Date of viewing: February 20, 2016