Love's Debris

(Abfallprodukte Der Liebe, Werner Schroeter, Germany, 1997)


Werner Schroeter approves of the German title of this film (Abfallprodukte der Liebe, "wasteproducts of love") and the French title (Poussières d'amour, "dusts of love"), but considers an adequate English title an impossibility. Nonetheless, his subtitlers have come up with Love's Debris.

Under any title, this film – by a living, avant-garde legend whose thirty-year career is virtually unknown in Australia – is superb. Called by Thomas Elsaesser "Germany's greatest marginal director", Schroeter's heady brew of passionate melodrama, queer sexuality, experimental form, and his abundant love for actors and performance styles, has greatly influenced national contemporaries including Fassbinder, Ottinger and von Praunheim.

Schroeter's earliest Super 8 works in the '60s revolved around his intense, identificatory obsession with opera, and his subsequent artistic path has led him to direct many operas on stage. In Love's Debris Schroeter sets up a between-documentary-and-fiction situation.

He invites various renowned opera singers (including Anita Cerquetti, Rita Gorr and Martha Mödl) to work with him, for a couple of days each, on the staging of an aria for the camera – also employing a few other guests, including Isabelle Huppert. He also takes the opportunity to quiz each participant intimately on the topics of love, art and death.

The results combine Schroeter's profound respect for operatic traditions – especially the divas who, Goddess-like, embody these traditions – with his typically droll, ludic and subversive departures from tradition.

For Schroeter, emotion is sovereign – and expressive works of art, even the greatest in the world, are merely the 'waste products' or the pretext for such sublime feeling. Love's Debris is a film full of feeling – everything from wicked, camp humour (as in a scene where Huppert tries unsuccessfully to carry an aria) to the most profound and heightened of operatic transports.

A beautifully edited mosaic of glimpses and fragments, Love's Debris is a precious document of the collaborative creative process at its richest. Opera lovers will of course be entranced by it – but even those with an in-built aversion to opera and its solemn high-art associations may find it impossible to resist.

MORE Schroeter: The Queen

© Adrian Martin June 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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