A man stands in the swamp and reads. He wears Wilhelminian clothes, but studies Insel’s handbook from 2000. It’s Rilke’s poems, “In und nach Worpswede.” The centuries crumble together in the first scene of the Marie-Noel feature-length documentary about Heinrich Vogeler. Obviously, this isn’t going to be just the up-and-coming artist’s autobiography with costumes, crises, and wagon rides. This project is more experimental.
The French director (“Ludwig II.”, Marie Curie) chose a man as the subject for her rather wild photo collection of archive materials, expert interviews, and game scenes, which at first seemed a little rebellious. Heinrich Vogeler, “Prince Charming” of Worpswede, fueled a romantic fascination with the Middle Ages, painting slender men, women and birch trees, castles in the background, the most beautiful escape from Art Nouveau. He designed exquisite interiors, from wall panels to coffee spoons. Most famous Inhabitant of the artists’ colony in North Germany, but in his era he was by far the most economically successful. The bourgeoisie loved him. “Parkenhof”, which he himself had turned into a jewel in the Art Nouveau style, was the center of Worpswede for a long time, Rilke was his friend, and he Promoted by Paula Moderson Becker.
Vogler criticized the war and the Kaiser and was sent to an insane asylum because of it
Worpswede’s early years of the new century made for a beautiful book on fashion: in 1901 alone there were three weddings at Worpswede, Vogeler, teacher Martha Schröder and Rilke and sculptor Clara Westhoff, Modersohn-Beckers. Soon, disagreements erupted between Rilke and Vogeler, and then a creative crisis. In 2015, Klaus Modek published a very successful novel “Konzert ohne Dichter” about this time. With Vogeler’s most famous painting “A Summer Evening” from 1905, seemingly idyllic at first glance, he has already passed the peak of colonial bliss.
The director succumbs to the rush of immersion, which certainly was there, but only for a very short time. Your game scenes look great. Spring on the Swamp, Artist Evenings in Parkenhof, and found her wonderful actors. Florian Lucas, the affectionate Jedermann in the German film (“Weißensee”), plays Vogeler in a very likable and dreamy way. Anna Maria Trabel has a wonderful suspicion of him as his wife Martha, and Johann von Bülow gives Rilke as a cheerful genius, more of self-representation than poetry. The movie that is not filmed here is pretty straightforward to watch.
But Marie Noel seems to have lost faith in the masquerade genre. As Vogeler, Rilke and Paula Moderson-Becker cruise across a bridge over the Seine on an inspiring ride through Paris, a black tour of Montparnasse can be seen looming in the background, cars rushing in front of them. Perhaps this is Brecht’s “Don’t Stare Romantically”. Perhaps it was intended to show that Vogler’s artistic turn toward politics, which he takes shortly thereafter, makes him a modern artist. It does not work well, in Paris today the people in costumes look as if they are on a carnival ride.
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But the diverse concept of Noëlle ultimately fits Heinrich Vogeler’s life better than one might first think. There is a second part that is less well known and is actually a third part. In 1914 Vogeler was disturbed by dissatisfaction with his art and after his separation from Martha, he voluntarily went into World War I – like many artists of his day in search of clarity and purification. Realizing his mistake, he writes an essay full of sharp criticism of the war and the Emperor, and is sent to an insane asylum because of it.
Then he returned to Worpswede as a changed person. Becoming a communist, he handed Parkenhoff over to the village community, then went to Moscow and painted the intricate pictures of his late work: large, colorful life pamphlets resembling socialist realism whose ideology had been gently stripped away. However, he soon became disillusioned with Stalinism and finally died at the age of 69 on a Kazakh collective farm, to which he was evacuated after the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union. It was hard for him to turn away from the bright green, shimmering birch leaves of Worpswede’s dreamy works.
This diversity in Vogler’s life is what Marie-Noel wants to show in her film, not only in terms of content, but also formally. Sometimes it crosses the target with its understated structure, with many interlocutors from psychoanalyst to two of the artist’s descendants and with modern historical interludes within fictional scenes. But this experience, which isn’t as self-confident as Vogler did mid-life, is refreshing.
Heinrich Vogeler – Germany 2022. Written and directed by: Marie Noel, Photographs: Christoph Ioanoff, Moritz Musinger, Sabine Steckardt. With: Florian Lucas, Anna Maria Mohe, Johann von Bülow, Naomi Ashternbusch, Samuel Finzi. 90 minute color movie. Theatrical release: May 12, 2022