By Anuradha Kodagoda • 27 AUG 2023
Claudia Rorarius’s second feature film ‘Touched’ was one of the most impactful films for me at the 76 Locarno Film Festival for several reasons. The film particularly highlights the impossibility of patriarchal heterosexual love and portrays the eternal anguish and grief of a woman in a patriarchal context. The film is rich in emotion and carries a distinctly feminine essence.
‘Touched’ may seem like a typical love story with a murder twist, but the truth it uncovers about the dance between men and women in a world dominated by patriarchal norms – a dance that’s now reached its logical end due to societal shifts – is absolutely thought provoking. Also, Claudia’s clever intervention in her film, aiming to present this crucial theme through the simplicity of a love story, is truly remarkable.
Reviewing ‘Touched’ is like peeling an onion, revealing layers upon layers. I would say it’s a fresh take on ‘Titanic,’ that iconic love story of our time, where the man’s demise was destined to pave the way for the woman’s salvation. In ‘Titanic,’ Jack willingly sacrifices his life to save the woman he loves, adhering to the patriarchal notion of eternal love. In contrast, in the film ‘Touched,’ a paradoxical similarity arises: Alex (portrayed by Stavros Zafeiris), the male protagonist, meets his demise, not through sacrifice but via murder. This event, however, paradoxically serves the purpose of Maria’s liberation (played by Isold Halldórudóttir), the female protagonist, creating a unique yet oddly comparable narrative thread.
In Titanic, it’s all about that real-deal of pure love, sacrifice and the whole steamy hetero vibes, providing a sense of security for women. The iconic scene that Jack’s clinging to a floating table in the icy Atlantic even without a life jacket and looking like a human popsicle while Rose lies on the same table, donning a life jacket and humming a tune, seemingly indifferent to Jack’s frozen state. Ironically, we tend to overlook Rose’s seemingly heartless and self-centered nature. Once she arrives in New York, it’s as if Jack’s existence becomes trivial to Rose as well as for the spectators, and the narrative conveniently shrinks into the archetype of a sacrificial ‘true love’.
In contrast, in ‘Touched,’ Maria takes on the role of a nurse for Alex, who is paralysed. At the beginning of the film, she rescues him from drowning in the pool despite his desire to end his suffering. Initially serving as his lifeline, Maria eventually decides to break free from his abusive and unbearable words (The sole operational components of Alex’s paralysed body are his mouth and brain.) by bringing an end to his frail, paralysed existence. Although, the way Alex’s death is portrayed blurs reality and fantasy, the director uses his death as a metaphor in the movie, that a man’s symbolic sacrifice can help women’s liberation, just like in Titanic.
The problematic aspect here is that, similar to Titanic, we tend to disregard the self-centered and inconsiderate stance that women’s subjectivity can take when it comes to survival. This tendency often remains hidden behind the façade of feminine fragility, all the while highlighting the more evident harshness associated with masculinity.
Bearing in mind, when I reflect on the film’s intentional storytelling, I notice a bit of a downside, as it doesn’t seem to leave much room for other ways of seeing things. Although it touches on the changing power dynamics and exposes the flaws of toxic masculinity, but it seems to only present one path for female empowerment: the metaphorical act of ending the man’s life. But, as discussed above, isn’t toxicity found in both masculinity and femininity? Could this transformation represent a shift towards a fairer balance of power between genders, rather than just handing over the reins from one side to the other? It’s worth pondering.
Claudia’s fairly audacious decision regarding the choice of characters marks a radical and metaphorical twist by exchanging stereotypical definitions of masculine power and feminine fragility, casting a neck-to-toe paralyzed man and an oversized female body.
The oversized female physique of the actress portraying the character Maria, juxtaposed with the shrunken, paralyzed and inert male body she effortlessly cradles in her arms, offers a fresh interpretation of femininity and masculinity that has yet to be explored in cinema. This portrayal provides insights into an emerging era characterised by a shift in traditional gender dynamics, where women are increasingly independent from patriarchal norms.
However, the characters’ subjectivity captures the very core of both masculinity and femininity, raising a crucial question: What defines masculinity and femininity? Does it exist in the body? Is it found in language? Does it shape itself through culture or is in the memory? Which are crucial to analyze, rethink and redefine.
While it is an undeniable fact that we are living in an era where opportunities for women have never been greater, it remains paradoxical that the sentiment of womanhood often carries an air of melancholy.
‘Touched,’ a film that expertly mirrors this evolving landscape of societal norms and artistic expression, captures the essence of this transformative period. With a smart touch, it digs into the shifting perceptions of love and the dismantling of patriarchal systems. ‘Touched’ urges the viewer to pause and reexamine, reexplore, and reengage with their preconceived notions of heterosexual love. It’s an invitation to ponder on the intricate dynamics of power, love, and transformation, all while presenting a personal story that resonates universally.
The hypnotic visual aesthetic of the film ‘Touched’ and the flawless acting by the non-actor duo serve as the predominant illumination throughout the entirety of the film’s existence. The compelling portrayal of the characters’ existence often creates the sensation that the duo is beginning to coexist with us.
Nearly three weeks have passed since I was deeply moved on emotional and philosophical levels by Claudia’s masterpiece ‘Touched.’ Nevertheless, the melancholic melody of Tara Nome Doyle’s beautiful song ‘Morning Light’ continues to resonate in my mind. It’s as though the song has taken root, lingering as a constant reminder. The captivating contemporary dance performance, artistically executed by Maria and Alex, akin to a postmodern rendition of Jack and Rose, sophisticatedly summarised the film’s full 135 minutes narrative. This mesmerizing display stands as the emotionally charged climax, concluding the ‘Touched’ cinematic journey on an evocative note.
The song still resonates in my ears, igniting my heart like an eternal flame, a reminder of womanhood’s enduring quest for eternal love, forever in search of its other half.
In the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary auteur cinema, few filmmakers dare to explore the depths of human emotion and passion as fearlessly as Claudia Rorarius. With her second feature film, “Touched,” she has proved her creative prowess and cinematic vision, earning significant recognition by securing prestigious Pardo award for the Best performance for Ísold Halldórudóttir and Stavros Zafeiris for their bluntly brave performance in ‘Touched’ at the 76th Locarno Film Festival.
As an accredited press member immersed in the 76 Locarno Film Festival’s digital offerings, I had the privilege of probing into the heart of Rorarius’s creation, benefitting from an illuminating Zoom interview amidst the vibrant backdrop of the festival.
Hailing from the artistic hub of Berlin, Germany, Claudia Rorarius has seamlessly transitioned from her successful career as a photographer, renowned for her captivating celebrity portraits in international magazines, to establishing herself as a daring director. Her debut feature, “Who Saw Him,” as the critics reviewed was a testament to her storytelling finesse and received invitations to esteemed international film festivals. Now, with “Touched,” Rorarius has woven a delicate yet gripping love story that promises to leave an indelible mark on every viewer.
This interview and the review ventures into the realms of Claudia Rorarius’s creative process and the inspirations that have shaped her remarkable cinematic journey, while also providing a glimpse into her ongoing projects, including the eagerly awaited “Ken” - the Movie and an intriguing science fiction endeavor set in the near future.
A: Well, that’s a tough one. To be honest, I think it’s quite complex. I’m not sure if there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. I mean, it involves trust, reliance, and going through time together to see how things evolve. It’s a process, really. I’m not the best person to discuss this because I believe everyone is just trying different things, some working out better than others. So, it’s more like a life journey than a hunt for love, per se. Prioritising self-care and understanding how far you can go, with or without another person, is crucial. Self-love is paramount in my view. That’s my take on love.Q: In your film, you mark a radical and metaphorical twist in body types to represent masculinity and femininity, challenging stereotypes while capturing their shared essence. This suggests that masculinity and femininity aren’t limited to these stereotypes, right? Could you elaborate?
A: Absolutely, countering stereotypes is vital. Even I, growing up, was influenced by the stereotypes I was surrounded by. I infused personal moments into the film. While the whole story isn’t autobiographical, I drew from my own experiences, highlighting physical and emotional aspects that I found challenging or unjust. The events depicted in the film might not have directly happened to me, but I believe every woman has faced instances that demonstrate how tough it can be to navigate womanhood and sexuality. So, while not entirely my personal story, it’s a narrative I created to address a range of experiences many women share.
A: This topic holds immense significance for me, as the genesis of the entire film came from personal experiences related to my father’s patriarchal attitudes. Being a woman in both society and the filmmaking industry means facing patriarchal challenges nearly every day.
I sought to channel these experiences into the film, weaving questions and shifting power dynamics. I aimed to challenge dependency and survival, reversing roles, and exploring how one navigates society.
While she doesn’t have a defined goal, the protagonist is on a journey of physical and emotional self-discovery, attempting to find her way in society. The male character, on the other hand, is trapped in his circumstances. At the outset, she manipulates him to fuel her aspirations, creating a symbiotic cycle. The exploration of power dynamics intrigued me—how it influences us and how we wield it. The central question is how we use our power, especially in relation to others. Mistakes can occur when wielding power, but many are caught in its grip. The film is definitely an exploration of this facet.
A: It’s a thought-provoking question, and I don’t have a straightforward answer. In a sense, we need to address the need to dismantle patriarchy to achieve true freedom, but that doesn’t equate to ending all men’s lives. It’s about dismantling the patriarchal system itself. The film plays with this metaphorically, especially in the ending, which brings together various powers like nature, physicality, and societal issues. This culmination reflects a different level of complexity. While it might not necessitate the literal death of a man, it calls for awareness and action when things go wrong.
It’s interesting how you view it, because I perceive it differently. To me, the outcome isn’t entirely clear; it’s uncertain if he’s dead or not. The scene is laden with emotion, with her taking control and fighting for her freedom. It’s a powerful gesture that’s not solely about her taking over his role. Even though he’s feeble, it’s more nuanced. The emotions are diverse, and he has pushed her boundaries, maybe unintentionally. It’s his decision, and she’s pushed to that edge. His actions compel her beyond limits, even if she may not want to go there. It’s a choice he makes, influencing her path. It’s like he’s pushing her to the brink, and she responds with what might be her only viable choice at that moment.
A: When it comes to love, it’s a complex matter. From my perspective, both women and men need to attain independence to truly experience love. The whole concept of love, relationships, and marriage stems from old traditions that don’t resonate with me personally. I believe we need to reconsider these notions. Equality should be the norm, with everyone having the same opportunities. Until we achieve that, a lot of effort is required to level the playing field.
As for marriage, it’s not a priority for me. I don’t see the sense in it within the framework of my beliefs. I value being self-reliant and not dependent on someone else. While I appreciate the idea of sharing and trust, I also acknowledge that people grow and evolve. Sometimes, paths diverge naturally as individuals develop in different directions. It’s important to identify personal needs and preferences, which can guide us in forming meaningful connections. We carry ingrained stereotypes, at least in my experience in Germany, which influences our thoughts. Personally, I find traditional relationship concepts uninteresting and prefer to observe them from a distance while forming my own perspectives.
A: This film marks my second feature film as a filmmaker, and it’s been a decade-long journey encompassing various creative pursuits. As I reflect on this project, I’m already gearing up for another film in the near future. I’m excited to witness how everything comes together. Crafting a film requires a substantial investment of time and effort, including development, financing, and production. Each step has its own pace, and I took the necessary time to ensure the project’s quality. When the timing felt right, I embarked on the journey of making this film.