Despite being the seed of what would become the countercultural movement in the 1960s, Not much has been said about the commune created on Monte Verità in 1900 by the Belgian businessman Henri Oedenkoven and his wife, the German pianist Ida Hofmann.. Initially built as the Monte Verità Vegetarian Cooperative, the colony was governed by the principles of primitive socialism, although it later led to a kind of community in which vegetarianism was practiced, in addition to serving as a rest home, sanatorium and a place to take sunbaths.
In addition to becoming the home of anarchist intellectuals, such as the doctor Raphael Friedeberg, it was the place where artists, writers and other scholars went to disconnect from the madding crowd of cosmopolitanism, famous authors like Hermann Hesse, philosophers like Carl Gustav Jung or the dancer Isadora Duncan stayed in this utopian placewhich was a reference prior to the hippie movement that exploded in the 60s, coinciding with the French May 68. Without a doubt, a commune where people who rejected private property, social conventions and practiced nudism lived together at the beginning of the 20th century needed a feature film.
The answer to this is ‘The photographer of Monte Verità’, whose protagonist is a completely fictitious character, which starts from the idea that the only photographs that are preserved from those early years could have been taken by a woman. Nevertheless, As the film itself explains, the name of the author of the snapshots remains a mystery, as well as their gender. Hence, Stefan Jäger, who directs a script written by Kornelija Naraks, chooses to propose a kind of biopic about one of the first female photographers (leaving aside the fact that it was the British Anna Atkins who was considered the first female photographer).
On that basis, which provokes sensations similar to those of ‘Charlatán’, the feature film by Agnieszka Holland about the Czech botanist Jan Mikolásek in which he took too much artistic license, it can be said that ‘The photographer of Monte Verità’ is a remarkable period film, whose great care for detail in its production design (work by Nina Mader and Katharina Wöppermann), their decorations (created by Géraldine Dardano and Nancy Vogel) and her splendid wardrobe (made by Veronika Albert) manages to be before a precious film, whose technical aspects are enhanced by delightful photography, made by Daniela Knapp. A technical composition in which women show their professionalism behind the cameras in a different way and that remember why you have to promote equality in cinematography is not only in a matter of direction, script, production and cast.
An elegant period drama with exquisite visuals
Its technical section allows you to enter fully into the anarchic lifestyle of the commune, which highlights a series of historical figures who did exist and were part of the community that made the sanatorium famous. Especially noteworthy is the psychologist Otto Gross, whose extreme ideas condemned him to ostracism in his time and which were rescued by experts today, as well as the aforementioned pianist Ida Hofmann, a reference for the leading photographer. Special mention for Lotte Hattemer, one of the founders of the cooperativewhich is portrayed in an ethereal way, knowing how to bring the mystery that existed throughout his life and his strange death.
These characters are played by top-level actors, especially Max Hubacher, who shows character as a leading man of the time in a feature film in which he defends a man whose progressive ideals collide with an inherent machismo typical of society. Julia Jentsch also stands out and, very especially, Hannah Herzsprung, whose ethereal look evokes that of Swedish actress Morfydd Clark. Applause also for the short speeches by Philipp Hauss and Joel Basman.
However, Regarding her main heroine, Jäger knows how to portray the oppression in which women lived in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, focusing on a female belonging to the Viennese haute bourgeoisie, from the once great Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her reactions, especially at the beginning, are very typical of the maidens of this historical period, involving the public more, if possible. Here, you can see the good work of Maresi Riegner, which conveys a fragile appearance that contrasts with a look that yearns for freedom and an innate inner strength. These apparently contradictory feelings are reminiscent of Soko’s in ‘The Dancer’ or Pauline Étienne in ‘The Religious’.
In that line, ‘The photographer of Monte Verità’ moves in a similar way to the biopics of women who made history but whose names have been cloistered in the footnotes of books (and now come to light thanks to culture itself), such as ‘The conductor’ or ‘Paula’ (and, to a lesser extent, ‘Marie Curie ‘ and ‘Colette’, since both are widely recognized women in science and literature, respectively, but also with films of this style). Given its careful technical aspectas a background that knows how to transmit the values and sensations that were lived in that utopian place, Stefan Jäger’s proposal works.
The best: His exquisite care in his technical section. Gorgeous costumes and production design.
Worst: Being an invented life, it detracts from a feature film that would have been worth much more if it had focused on the commune itself.