Penthesilea / Marquise von O (... vom Süden nach dem Norden verlegt) Luc Tuymans – Edith Clever
The exhibition Luc Tuymans – Edith Clever is the prominent prelude of a new series of the Visual Arts Section at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in which works by Akademie members from diverse artistic disciplines confront one another. Belgian painter and curator Luc Tuymans – an art scene star recognised for his significant figurative style – has initiated a dialogue with German actress and director Edith Clever, an icon in theatre known for her strong women’s roles.
At the finissage, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s legendary film adaptations of Kleist’s plays Marquise von O.... and Penthesilea with Edith Clever can be seen.
Directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Germany 1987/88
Based on the play Penthesilea by Heinrich von Kleist, U-matic video, colour, 240 min.
The filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, a close collaborator of Edith Clever’s, described Heinrich von Kleist’s tragedy about the tragic love of the Amazon queen Penthesilea for the Greek hero Achilles, whom she faces on the battlefield before Troy, as a “poem of lyrical and dramatic nature”. The drama revolves around a cruel and violent conflict between strong individual emotions and societal order. According to the law of the Amazons, love can only be granted to someone defeated in battle.
In the film, Clever is the embodiment of a scream–the pain of a madwoman, her hands pressed to her face and her eyes wide open–who, in her state of delirium, becomes the law, kills, and only then comes to realisation. The text becomes a single giant monologue in the film, with Clever speaking all the roles. The actress not only personifies the text with her voice, she is the text, transcending in the process all conventional notions of theatre and film. Clever plays Penthesilea and Achilles. “Achilles is Penthesilea as a man; Penthesilea is Achilles as a woman.” (Friedrich Gundolf) But Clever also mimes the festival of flowers, the war, and the battle lines. “There is no longer an audience in the film version of this Penthesilea. It all plays out only before the king, in the guise of a queen, before the king of art, and the audience, before us, the only guests.” (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg)
Marquise von O (... vom Süden nach dem Norden verlegt)
Directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, Deutschland 1989
Based on a novella by Heinrich von Kleist, U-matic video, colour, 224 min., camera: Hans Rombach, sound: Norman Engel, music: Ludwig van Beethoven
Edith Clever’s interpretations of the Marquise of O are legendary. She first played the lead role alongside Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander in the absurdist production by French filmmaker Éric Rohmer, which he shot in 1976, based on the novella by Heinrich von Kleist. It is the story of the consequences of the wartime rape of a young noblewoman, who unknowingly ends up pregnant.
With Clever in the lead, the film becomes the opposite of a sentimental drama. It is the slow process of understanding, of forgiveness and of humanity beyond bourgeois conventions. After more than ten years, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg shifts the setting from the south to the north, shooting his film against the backdrop of projections of Berlin’s destroyed Royal Palace and Friedersdorf Park, which Kleist visited before his suicide. He first staged the play with Edith Clever at the Hebbel Theatre in Berlin, before subsequently making the film. As is the case with his Clever monologues shot in the mid-1980s, all of its scenes and roles are filmed at a single location and with only one actress. This turns Kleist’s text – in contrast to Rohmer’s film adaptation – into an inner conflict carried out with different voices. In an interview, Edith Clever describes her approach to Kleist: “My relationship to Kleist is very much defined by the language. Kleist is, at least as far as the drama is concerned, closer to me than Goethe is; he simply has this tenderness and deep pain in his characters, who, after initially being securely embedded in their circumstances, in their families, are suddenly exposed to the most unfathomable calamities.”