In many of her films, exhibitions, and books, Ulrike Ottinger has portrayed herself as an ethnographer who takes us on long journeys to foreign cultures, showing herself participating in people’s daily lives and rituals. We sat together in Mongolian tents and attended the ceremonies of the female shamans; we were eyewitnes- ses to the winter rites which are celebrated amidst the Japanese New Year festivities; we retraced the tracks of the great global explorers; and we were introduced to the northernmost inhabitants of the Arctic, observing them fishing and going about their daily work.
With her new film, Ottinger opens a very different chapter to these expedition films. We now embark on a journey through time, leading us back to Paris in the 1960s. Uto- pian research differentiates between spatial and temporal utopias, but this film is both. It is a spatial utopia going, not to the ends of the world or into uncharted territory, but into the heart of the Parisian metropolis, and also a tempo- ral utopia whose time lies, not in the future, but in the past. It is an autobiographical journey back to her own youth, to the years of her all-important coming of age.
Focusing specifically on this phase of her life, Ulrike Ottinger’s film forges a bridge between the then and now. Images intersect, meld, and overlap. This is at its most evident when the artist reappropriates the shop window of the former Librairie Calligrammes — in Saint-Ger- main-des-Prés quartier, Paris — for her own exhibition. Momentarily, the window display is swept clean and adorned with her own treasures: the collection of books she acquired at the time and which she has assiduously cultivated throughout the intervening years. Just like the window display, the entire film abounds with impres- sions, experiences, and memories. Yet, the period fifty years ago, the ”past present“ that she so vividly brings back to life, is receptive in equal measure to both the burden of a traumatic history and to the allure of an experimental and vibrant future.
With Eyes Wide Open in Paris, the Chamber of Curiosities – Aleida Assmann
Director: Ulrike Ottinger
Cast: Jenny Agutter, Fanny Ardent, Simone de Beauvoir.
Spoken Language: French
Running Time: 129 minutes