Think of it as A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, if it had been written for post-war intellectuals like Arendt and Camus. In spite of their radically different backgrounds, poets Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann conducted an ambiguous but tempestuous romance, largely via letters. Two actors reading the Celan-Ingeborg missives get caught up amid their passion and angst in Ruth Beckermann’s The Dreamed Ones, which screens as part of this year’s Art of the Real.
Film do not get much more epistolary than this. Aside from a few meta interludes in which the readers analyze their respective characters and maybe flirt a bit, the script for Dreamed Ones consists entirely of the poets’ letters. Their words are indeed heavy. It quickly becomes apparent they both had a knack for writing the last things the other wished to read. Often they respond too quickly in the heat of the moment or allow day-to-day business to forestall their replies longer than they should have, yet they never really broke off from each other or had a moment of closure.
As the volume of correspondence mounts, we hear Celan develop a persecution complex, but as an anti-Communist Jewish-Romanian Holocaust survivor, it is hard to judge his paranoia harshly. In fact, as the daughter of National Socialists and the wife of Swiss playwright Max Frisch, who was often perceived as a fellow traveler, Bachmann must have had a great many inherited political-ideological-cultural differences with Celan, but Beckermann almost exclusively focuses on the personal.
To the credit of Anja Plaschg and Laurence Rupp, Dreamed Ones proves how little is truly required to realize good drama. The co-leads read Beckermann’s collected letters with the sensitivity they deserve and develop some potent chemistry together, both “in” and “out’ of character. Still, film is an inherently visual medium, so nobody need feel embarrassed if Beckermann’s static approach makes them feel a tad antsy. Despite Johannes Hammel’s warm, rich cinematography, Dreamed Ones also feels like a radio play artificially exported to the big screen.