The images float past like the elusive fragments of a dream. The shredding of a feather pillow. The steady drip, drip, drip of tea from a samovar into a glass. A candle flame that slowly ignites a piece of muslin. This is the visual poetry of Elisabeth Mrton's mesmerizing documentary, My Name Was Sabina Spielrein, which reconstructs the life of the Russian Jewish woman who was Carl Jung's patient, lover and later, a groundbreaking psychoanalyst in her own right. Spielrein had largely been forgotten by history until a cache of her letters and diaries was discovered in a Swiss basement. From these source materials, Mrton has woven a fascinating narrative of madness, love, betrayal and intellectual ambition in early-20th-century Europe.
Mrton's unconventional approach gives the film its strange power. There is a narrator, but he intrudes discreetly; the story unfolds chiefly through the exchange of letters, read in voiceover, from Spielrein to Jung, Jung to Spielrein, and Freud to both. Onscreen we see actors portraying Spielrein and Jung, but they don't play "scenes" as such. They move wordlessly through rooms, compose letters at desks, gaze out of windows, drink tea. There are archival photographs of the principal subjects and places, and of the letters themselves, with all the archaic character of their penmanship. These various images and sounds accumulate to form a cinematic palimpsest, at once mysterious and illuminating.—Tom Beer
(Opens Wed 28; Film Forum.)