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"It is sometimes very unfair!" says one of the characters imagined by Tatjana Turanskyj in her last screenplay for a film meant to complete a trilogy about women and work. It is unfair that CORPORATE should be no more; it is not fair that the filmmaker, artist and feminist had to die so early, at only 55. Her last feature film will remain DISORIENTATION IS NOT A CRIME, which she made with Marita Neher in 2016.

Turanskyj herself had a keen sense of injustice, of the social structures that create and allow it, that we in reality and the characters of fiction have to grapple with. She was a feminist activist, a filmmaker - but above all, she was a great artist.

Turanskyj's films are like she was herself: critical, humorous, clever, with a very lucid view of the world and its conditions. They are equipped with a sense for the absurd, for politics and theory as well as for humanity, and characterized by an idiosyncratic aesthetics in which scenic fiction meets theatrical performativity and documentary authenticity.

The world from a feminist perspective

The films observe and pass comment on the world from a feminist perspective, thus standing in the best tradition of the films of female auteurs in the 1970s and 80s. In a similarly light and entertaining manner, Turanskyj's first feature-length film THE DRIFTER (2010) tells serious, biting and authentic stories about prevailing gender injustices and their concrete impact on women's lives, as does Helke Sander’s THE ALL-ROUND REDUCED PERSONALITY – REDUPERS (1978).

Both films are chiefly concerned with the question of unpaid work and women’s financial poverty. The time span between the two films shows that in many respects not much has changed, and this was also an essential insight of Turanskyj's work: feminism dies if it is not kept actively alive. That is why in 2014, she and colleagues founded the association Pro Quote Regie (now Pro Quote Film) to resume the fight for equality and distributive justice, after female filmmakers of the 1990s thought that all their goals had been achieved.

Political knowledge as performative illustration

The great skill of Turanskyj the filmmaker lay in inventing situations and creating iconic images, through which fictional characters could be credible, and at the same time elucidating very real social conditions. She created film scenes that are appropriate for cultural memory: the hedonist Greta M. (played by Mira Partecke), who performs a kind of dance of death with friends on the Teufelsberg above the thoroughly commodified city of Berlin, or the sex worker Helena (Julia Hummer), who can only get her long-term punter to clean the kitchen floor of the apartment he has rented for her as part of a BDSM sex game.

Turanskyj transfers her political knowledge into dramatic, performative illustration and thus into filmic art. She does not instrumentalize her characters for political discourse but shows them as characters with needs and contradictory desires. Thus, her critique is not directed at individuals, not at men* or at women*, but at the system in which they have to operate.

Greta M. is thus almost a classic comic figure (and a reincarnation of "She" in Ulrike Ottinger's 1979 TICKET OF NO RETURN). She is lost and desperate, she drinks and is unable to cope with the circumstances - but ultimately it is not she who is the source of the comedy, but the absurd demands made of her.

The ambivalence of a complex reality

The protagonist of Turanskyj’s second feature-length film TOP GIRL OR LA DÉFORMATION PROFESSIONNELLE (2014) has to deal with the same absurd demands: Helena plays a dominatrix for her clients, but in (fictional) reality she is completely dependent on their money. The men have the power and the means, and plenty enough of these: Turanskyj has a singing student reinterpret Bach's lyric "Ich habe genug (I have enough)" repeatedly and excessively. In this system, it is the men who are luckier, lying around like contented sleeping babies while Helena gathers or cleans her utensils.

Turanskyj concentrates on the aspect of work and reality and thus comments and implicitly twists the eternally recurring images of cinema’s fetishizing representation of prostitutes. Her scenes are conceived as critique; at the same time, they develop a new magic of their own through the way in which they are presented. The story is about power imbalances, but also about the real relationships of the people within these imbalances.

In contrast to political discourses directed towards unambiguity, Turanskyj's scenes show the contradictions of a complex reality in which alliances go astray. Thus, there are also no "heroines" who represent feminist empowerment in a simple way.

At the end of TOP GIRL, the protagonist collaborates with the men and their power, sending her female colleagues into the forest as naked game to be hunted. She has changed sides and now stands (wearing absurdly high-heeled designer pumps) like a powerful, dark ruler at the window, observing her work, the "slain" women. She has won, but at the same time - and this is a contradiction that is possible in art - in her black costume and veil, she also gives the impression of being at a funeral.

Thus, the shot becomes an iconography of structural sexism and - at the same time -  an image for the filmmaker's mourning of the failure of feminism and its concerns. In the interplay of explicit and implicit significances, an ambivalent message manifests itself: feminism is dead, long live feminism.

The last film will be left to our imagination

Structural sexism would also have been the subject of the last film in the trilogy. Tatjana wanted to tell a story about #metoo and embedded feminism, i.e. the abuse of women's rights for the legitimization of state violence. She had invented iconic and ironic scenes for this film too.

Two women have a chance to let their tormentor drown, but at the last second they change their minds and pull him out of the pool. He then lies in their arms like a kind of desired image - a new man raised from a baptism who throws up anything patriarchal: "all images, porn, rapes, humiliations, everything is spat out". How Tatjana would have staged this will be left to our imagination. In any case, cinema will sorely miss her ideas and images.

Christine Lang worked as a dramaturge with Tatjana Turanskyj on her last screenplay Corporate.

Translated by Anne Thomas 


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