Ticket of no return (1979) : an experimental attempt at the female gaze
A woman, "She", buys a one-way ticket to Berlin to indulge in her binge-drinking habit. Ticket of no return is an experimental film directed by Ulrike Ottinger who is also the director of photography.There is no proper plot to speak of. The film is like a promenade in Berlin through the eyes of this woman.
While I was doing some research, I discovered Ottinger tried to show that female behaviour is put under more scrutiny than a man's is in the same situation. This film is all about the female perspective and experience. Because Ulrike Ottinger is a woman who is directing and in charge of the cinematography, she is -knowingly or not- subverting the male gaze and offering another perspective. The female lead "She" is not looked at from a man's point of view (POV). Most of the time, the audience sees her from an omniscient POV and not from the POV of a character - or the rare times it happens, it is always from the POV of the women around her. "She" has the rare privilege of being an active character whose perspective is represented on screen which gives the audience a taste of how women looking at themselves or at other women might look like.
There is a male voice-over at the beginning that disappears as she leaves the airport. 3 women - Social Question, Accurate Statistics and Common Sense - will follow her and comment on her actions. I wonder if the voice-over tricks us into believing we are looking at her from a male perspective ? Or if it is to lure the audience in before offering a completely new outlook ? I am tempted to go for the second because after that the film speaks for itself. "She" never speaks. There is very little dialogue. Why isn't she speaking ? Is it because she would be dismissed as a woman ? Or because she will not be heard ? Because she might not have the words she needs to express herself ? Or maybe because no matter what she says, society will still judge her by norms made to favour men ? It is an interesting premise because a lot of it still feels accurate today. There is still vocabulary missing for women to be able to talk about their experiences accurately. This film eliminates that by making the protagonist silent and let her action speak for herself. The comments of the three women are the voice of society and norms established to control women's behaviour. In this world, she has no space to express herself. She chooses to not defend herself but keep on living her life the way she wants. I have found the film quite long even though it is visually gorgeous. It made me think about what I am usually accustomed to see and if some of the boredom I felt came from the fact that male gaze has been integrated by myself that another perspective would feel confusing and I might be tempted to reject it. Looking back, I realise that there might be some of it. The framing used to portray "She" are not the ones I am accustomed to. Her body is rarely cut to focus on one part only like in mainstream films where legs, breasts, lips are shown in close-ups to sexualise women's bodies. She is shown as a whole with a focus on her face, her expressions which reminds us of her humanity. She is shown in her entirety with her extravagant dresses and quirks.
Ticket of no return is a definitely film ahead of its time that offers visual alternatives on how to shoot, frame and represent women that challenges the norms established by the male gaze. Available to watch for free on Youtube as part of the We Are One Festival here