“Elfriede Jelinek. La langue au bras-le-corps”, on Arte: the collage portrait of a “plastic artist of society”, Nobel Prize for Literature 2004

She is the author of The Pianist (ed

“Elfriede Jelinek. La langue au bras-le-corps”, on Arte: the collage portrait of a “plastic artist of society”, Nobel Prize for Literature 2004

She is the author of The Pianist (ed. Jacqueline Chambon, 1988), adapted for the cinema by director Michael Haneke in 2001. Elfriede Jelinek is an unclassifiable voice in German-speaking literature. Audacity of language, virulence of texts: this enfant terrible of Austrian letters, worthy compatriot of Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989), is also one of the most secretive writers there is. Since her Nobel Prize in 2004, she has withdrawn from public life. Apart from a few rare interviews – like the one she granted in 2019 to our collaborator Christine Lecerf for “Le Monde des livres” – she avoids requests from journalists and keeps the world at a distance.

It is therefore an exceptional document that Claudia Müller offers with her several award-winning film, Elfriede Jelinek. Language in full swing. It is a collage portrait as composite as Jelinek's writing itself, punctuated with extracts magnificently read by Isabelle Huppert. Convinced of “confessing”, the writer asks herself: who to write for? How to give a page “maximum effectiveness, in the political sense of the term”? Can writing harbor cathartic virtues?

Born on October 20, 1946 in Mürzzuschlag (Styria), Elfriede Jelinek grew up in Vienna. His father is a Jewish chemist of Czech origin. His mother, German-Romanian, came from the Catholic bourgeoisie. Half Jewish, the other Christian: very quickly, this divide weighs heavily on little Elfriede, the couple's only child. “On one side, images of martyred saints, on the other, millions of Jewish victims: you could say that, in my family, blood oozed constantly. »

omnipresent mother

Blood, but also sweat and tears. Among the Jelineks, the mother, omnipresent, rules everything in an authoritarian and inflexible manner. At age 3, Elfriede learned French and dance. At 7 years old, the piano and the violin. At 14, convinced of her daughter’s genius, the mother established a “new schedule” for her. At the Vienna Conservatory, in addition to all the activities she already practiced, young Elfriede had to add the study of the organ, the flute and composition.

This constant pressure will soon get the better of the young girl. “I had always wanted to study medicine,” she says. But after the baccalaureate, I fell into a black hole (…). I collapsed. » Literature welcomes it and saves it. “Basically, I took refuge in language because it was the only artistic form that my mother had never encouraged,” she notes with lucidity and bitterness.

Throughout the film, Claudia Müller emphasizes the political and aesthetic radicality of Jelinek's work, from his first experimental writings, influenced by the avant-gardes and Dadaism – Wir sind lockvögel baby! (“we are calls, baby!”, 1970, untranslated), Les Amantes (1975, published in French by Jacqueline Chambon, 1992) – up to his theater (Burgtheater in 1985 or Ein Sportstück in 1998), by the way through his novels – Les Exclus, La Pianiste and Méfions-nous de la nature sauvage, all published by Jacqueline Chambon, in 1989, 1988 and 1995.

“Elevate everyday things”

Müller perfectly shows how the writer uses all registers in turn (violence, sharp irony, humor, sarcasm, farce, grotesque, etc.) to denounce social exploitation, ordinary sexism, phallocracy, racism, anti-Semitism, and everything that, in this small country of Austria, can still reflect – including in language, television or film productions – what she calls “the Volkheit of the Nazis”.

“My job as a writer is to elevate everyday things, including politics,” she explains. And to put them on a pedestal so that we can see them. Otherwise, they disperse like water droplets. » To do this, Jelinek willingly borrows from cinema, thrillers, popular culture, and also from ancient dramas, which she sees as the first political plays. She uses her talents as a stage designer to “exhibit” things and people, as one would show objects in a museum. “It’s a work that amounts to fine art,” she notes. I'm almost a visual artist. A social artist. »

To those who criticize her for not having written anything since Enfants des Morts (1995, Seuil, 2007), she simply replies that it is “a text where everything culminates”. “I reached the limits of my possibilities, and then I calmed down, because, at least once in my life, I had written the book I had to write, all the others were, so to speak, optional exercises . »