Discover This: Zwei Mütter

Copyright: Salzgeber & Co. Medien GmbH

Two women want to have baby. It’s as simple as that. The storyline of Zwei Mütter (Two Mothers) couldn’t be more straightforward – the film starts and ends with Isabella and Katja and their wish to have a child. There are no subplots or larger narrative distractions and hardly any shots without Isabella or Katja in them.

Two women want to have a baby. It’s as complicated as that. Isabella and Katja are a lesbian couple and German law makes it impossible for them to have a sperm donor or raise a child like a straight couple. Isabella is 37, which is already a difficult age for a woman to get pregnant and the financial situation of the two is stable but not sufficient enough for a doctor to allow Isabella to be artificially inseminated.

“I never feel poor”, Isabella says at one point, remarking that she had never worried about money before. She shares her apartment and her income with Katja who runs a video store and who says that she wants a sperm donor, but not a father for the child. What seems to be an easy plan turns out to be an litmus test for the two women and their relationship. Zwei Mütter is a beautifully honest and surprisingly realistic film for many reasons.

First of all, the depiction of lesbian sexuality is freed from all the clichés we’ve been used to for the last decades. Forget the plastic lipstick lesbians of The L Word, here come two flesh-and-blood gay women who might actually exist in real life. Karina Plachetka and Sabine Wolf give such amazingly natural and unpretentious performances that you feel for them in love and in lust, in anger and in desperation. Wow. With lesbian sex scenes in mainstream or Hollywood cinema, you often suspect that the makers of these softcore fantasies
have one eye on their straight-male audience. In my view, films like Bound or Mullholland Drive have always been thoroughly straight films, despite or because of the lesbian sex. What we see in Zwei Mütter has two eyes on intimacy and realism, and no time for voyeurism. Isabella discusses openly that she’s not wet enough or asks to get fingered before an insemination and the brief, but passionate sex scenes strongly show love and togetherness apart from anything else.

Secondly, the film takes its protagonists very seriously. Zwei Mütter works well as a film about the problems of a lesbian couple, but it also works very well as a film about two German citizens who discover that they are not as free, equal, and independent as they thought they were. In the beginning, there is a brilliant jump-cut montage of Isabella on the phone. The couple has just made the decision to have a child and through a series of obscure, vague, and strangely legal answers from different representatives of various sperm banks, Isabella finds out that she cannot do what she wants to do. In a film that centres around two women, it is always the men in power positions that they depend on. It’s the doctor’s lawyer, a doctor, another doctor, or a salesman the women talk to and argue with. In that sense, the film is also a queer feminist analysis not only of the German legal and political system, but also of its patriarchal structures and enforcers.

Finally, the documentary style of the film, its observational camera use, and the deliberate omitting of classic dramatic tools makes Zwei Mütter extremely believable, very specific, and very tangible. No wonder – the film’s narrative is based on the personal reports of lesbian couples whose stories are the background for the story of Isabella and Katja. What we see here are new images and a new cinematic take on lesbian realities. What we hear are the conversations and fights, often in public places or near a highway, that we believe to be real and not just well-written and well-spoken as in many other films. They are proof of how the political, the structural, and the social interferes with the personal and the emotional. You wish the couple the best, but you also know that just when you think it is simple, it gets more complicated than that.

Zwei Mütter, Germany 2013, 79 min.

director: Anne Zohra Berrached, cinematography: Friede Clausz, actors: Sabine Wolf, Karina Plachetka, languages: German, distributor: Edition Salzgeber

Berlin screenings: Fsk, Zukunft, Xenon

We give away 3×2 tickets for a screening of your choice at the Fsk cinema. Send an email to toby@stilinberlin.de, subject line: Women Without Men. Answer the question: What is a mother? The three most original answers win. Deadline: Friday, May 31st, 3 pm.

Discover This! is a weekly Berlin–based film comment.

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