Licht [Mademoiselle Paradis] (2017)

Licht [literally: Light]
Director: Barbara Albert
Writer: Kathrin Resetarits, Barbara Albert
Based on: Alissa Walser‘s novel Am Anfang war die Nacht Musik
Cast: Maria Dragus, Devid Striesow, Lukas Miko, Katja Kolm, Maresi Riegner, Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Stefanie Reinsperger, Christoph Luser, Susanne Wuest, Theresa Martini, Julia Pointner
Seen on: 23.11.2017

Maria-Theresia Paradis (Maria Dragus) is a gifted musician who lost her eyesight at a young age for no apparent reason. Now her parents have heard about the revolutionary methods of physician Franz Mesmer (Devid Striesow) and they are hoping that he will be able to restore her eyesight. So Maria-Theresia is brought to his castle where Mesmer sets to work. Soon their relationship becomes very intense and there seems to be improvement in her condition.

I was hoping I would like Licht more than I actually did. Unfortunately I was unhappy with the way the film dealt with disability and I felt that it had considerable lengths.

Licht is trying to show that disability, as much as gender, are social categories. What is seen as problematic and how disabling being blind (or being female) actually is, depends entirely on circumstances, and circumstances can – theoretically – be changed. But on the way of exploring that social construction of disability, the film does take a couple of wrong turns that really rubbed me the wrong way. Especially since it does seem to basically get it.

For one, they cast a sighted actress in the role of Paradis. And while Dragus does a good job with the role, how often does it need to be said that CRIPPING UP IS PROBLEMATIC AS FUCK, DON’T FUCKING DO IT. Then there’s also the fact that the film is as much obsessed with healing Paradis as the society around her is. Not once does anybody suggest that maybe, she should be taught to walk with a stick or be given a carer who helps her navigate a discriminatory society, or – heaven forbid – change society itself. I don’t care if that’s historical or not, just hearing the thought uttered would have been good. And thirdly, Paradis does regain her sight (maybe) for a while, but as soon as she does, her ability to play the piano starts to suffer. And that feeds directly into the old trope that disability has to be (magically) balanced with some extraordinary other ability. Which really isn’t how any of this works.

I do applaud them for their attempt – I feel most films don’t even bother trying or get half as far as Licht did. But I still couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with how disability was dealt with. That being said, they do show the discrimination very clearly.

What I liked most about the film was the relationship between Paradis and Mesmer that is complex, interersting and feels very natural, particularly because the two are so vividly written and acted. I also loved the beautiful sets and costumes that are absolutely lush.

But in the end, the film was too long and didn’t manage to keep my attention as much as it would have needed to make it work. There is enough to it, though, that I wished it had.

Summarizing: There was a good but ultimately failing attempt.

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