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Rakhee Balaram Click here to Print this Page
Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

The use of feminism in Penthesilea underscored the drive to represent a 'different' kind of modernist discourse on women by revisiting Kleist's version of Penthesilea in which she slays her lover Achilles. The film uses a series of five sequences (playing with the aural similarity of words 'pente', the Greek word for 'five' and the name of the queen derived from 'penthos' or 'grief') which further heightens its numerical / dramatic versus linear / narrative sequencing. The film opens with a theatrical enactment of the story of Penthesilea, where luminous metal shields signify battles that lead to love, murder and death. The film continues into the second sequence with Peter Wollen's intervention and defense of filmic discontinuity and editing restraint while simultaneously moving through a plant-filled interior room and exterior patio embarking on the thematic traits of Penthesilea. Wollen refers to both Kleist's unique vision as well as Leni Riefenstahl's dream of telling Penthesilea's story. His dialogues are interspersed with still cue cards that repeat sequences of his speech or juxtapose them to create new dimensions of temporality. The film proceeds with comic book images of Wonderwoman, followed by the voice and images of suffragettes at the beginning of the century struggling to establish their need for emancipation. A montage of museum objects related to the story of Penthesilea creates a rupture in the temporal flow from the ancient past to the present and an awareness of how those moments are resurrected. This subtle play between history real and imagined and its consequences for a new social vision for women shows the filmmakers' willingness to experiment with the ellipses of space, history and society in a conscious act of displacement and renewal that daringly cuts across political and historical terrain much as the airplane in AMY!

Still from Penthesilia (1974)
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