Where Ilse Aichinger Lives
One of the most important writers of postwar German literature, the Austrian poet and short story writer Ilse Aichinger has continued to be overlooked in the English-speaking world. Born in 1921, she lived through the Second World War in Vienna with her Jewish mother, who was a doctor. According to the Nuremberg Laws, the mother was protected from deportation as long as she lived in the same household with her minor daughter, a “half-Aryan.” Ilse’s father, a teacher, divorced her mother so as not to endanger his career. Her twin sister Helga was sent to England on a Kindertransport in 1939 – and the nonagenarians remain close to this day. Many of their relatives, including Aichinger’s beloved grandmother, were deported (before Ilse’s eyes) in 1942 and died in concentration camps.
Ilse’s stories combine haunting imagery with Kafaesque sensations of strangeness and persecution; her poetry is concise and lyrical. Filmmaker Christine Nagel does an exquisite job of transferring Ilse’s lyricism to the screen, by weaving together elements of the author‘s short story Wo ich wohne („Where I Live“) with off-screen conversations, on-screen interviews with Helga, paintings, and Super 8 footage shot by Ilse in the ‘60s. Forming the surreal backbone of the film is a peculiar narrative: a young woman’s apartment seems to be sinking floor by floor, unnoticed by everyone but the protagonist herself. She finally ends up in the basement. Wo ich wohne is a beautiful visual portrayal of the inner life of Ilse Aichinger, who has said her greatest wish is not to speak of herself, but to disappear. Thus the poet is never shown on-screen, but remains approachable only through reflections of her life and work. It’s our privilege to share part of her consciousness.
Published on KinoCritics website