„The emotions we experience vicariously through the person of the actor are our own - or at least, they are the emotions we convince ourselves are our own.” In his piece on Ruth Rieser’s portrayal of Susanne Ressel in “Gebürtig”, the documentary filmmaker and author, Georg Stefan Troller ponders the “mystery of acting, which has puzzled humanity throughout the ages...“
Joining him are the voices of others from the worlds of theatre and film who know Ruth Rieser well: the directors Martin Kusej and Dietmar Pflegerl, and the playwright, Peter Turrini.
Martin Kusej about Ruth Rieser
It’s snowing outside. Over there on the horizon, on the other shore of the river, the mountains disappear in white. There, at their feet, lies the land she comes from. Now she stands there at the water, a pale bride, a beautiful woman, an eternal longing. She will always be there, even when night comes and the torches give greater warmth to the colors of her face; even when the heat and the summer come; even when the man is dead. In the water, countless letters float slowly past. They encircle her as they swim, but they never touch her.
The man wrote them all, but in his longing for her, he forgot his own name. In the deathly, reverberating ringing of black telephones, he sinks, a burning boat. The woman tries to save him, her voice cracks, she herself comes desperately close to drowning - only the fact that the water freezes over allows her to hold on. Her cries, too, are beautiful, like an ice ballet in the air. In the glade, unnoticed behind her, sits another man, crying. Then, suddenly, she loses her hold and falls, she has become a young girl, with love catching in her throat. No, she falls because she loves.
Again and again she collapses, like a puppet whose string has been severed; but she cannot reach the safety of the solid ground. Someone always grabs her up – her father, her lover, the man – so that helplessness becomes the fundamental condition of her life. Before, she used to sit, a gracious creature of innocence, clutching at the wall of the precipice. An object of desire for vultures, for people, for those in love. They did their operation – they operated on her open heart and sucked out of the young woman – only her last living feeling. Afire with dreams that strive to reach the heavens, she reels into a mortal fall, crushed by the earthen bodies of the Holy Virgin Mary. Shards, puddles of blood, ruins of hearts.
A last light. A letter damp with sweat. A dead lover. Poison. This will be the end ... Silence. Nothing more. Deep forest. Now, as if enchanted, they all watch the course of her life as it unfolds. It is one of those final progressions, a dance in a labyrinth rather, or a crawling in confusion over fiery earth. Because – it’s strange – it was always and only she who died. Her glassy coffin was life itself, the poisoned apple that choked her was the man. No peace. Beauty. Grace. Tireless energy.
Ruth Rieser played all these things in the productions I directed.
Martin Kusej, Director
Dietmar Pflegerl about Ruth Rieser
I had the great pleasure of working with Ruth Rieser on three female roles. In each case, she delved into the soul of the character with earnest attention to detail and extraordinary sensitivity. As Julie in Molnar’s „Liliom“, Tatjana in Gorki’s „Kleinbürger“ or Irina in Tschechov’s „Three Sisters“, she held us spellbound by a presence on stage that is unique to her, and by an emotional truthfulness that did not flinch at plumbing the depths of her characters’ pain and sorrow, nor at telling, with all her expressive power and nuance, the story of how they came to be there. I have also come to know her as an exceptionally warmhearted person, who brought so much to our productions through her sincerity and integrity.
Dietmar Pflegerl, Director
Georg Stefan Troller about Ruth Rieser in „Gebürtig“
In the end, what do we ask of the film actor? Probably, that we should be able to project onto his face and body every feeling that gives us pleasure. Through the actor, we vicariously experience our own emotions, or at least the emotions that we convince ourselves are our own. An intriguing business. Why is one actor successful, another less so, some not at all? And it does not necessarily have anything to do with the art of rhetoric, or with beauty of face or figure, although naturally these can help. It is the great mystery of acting, which has puzzled humanity throughout the ages.
During the months when Robert Schindel and I, with the help of Lukas Stepanik, were working on the screenplay for Robert’s novel, “Gebürtig”, I did not yet know Ruth Rieser. But I already envisioned the role of Susanne as the most soulful of the film. I saw her as the one who would fully arrest the feelings of the audience. Here is a young, modern, and doubtless leftwing journalist, who is living with a witty and fickle Viennese cabaret artist. She loses him to another woman and is now determined, at least for the moment, to remain alone, with her aged father and her cat – why, in fact? Maybe she is simply not lighthearted or frivolous enough to look for another boyfriend right away. Maybe she is only interested in the right love, a lasting love..
And then the unbelievable happens: She finds this love, where it was least expected: in the person of the pessimistic Jewish émigré, Gebirtig, in New York. A man who apparently gave up on happiness a long time ago, and no longer believes in anything. An impossible match; that’s what I was trying to work out, among the many other strands of the story. Always in the hope of finding an actress who could, in a relatively few scenes – we didn’t have room for more – make this unbelievable thing believable to us. More than that: who could elicit our sympathy and approval at this coming together of two such different people… although there is conflict at first, because Susanne is compelled to defend her politically passionate father to the cynical Gebirtig.
So, disappointed, she packs her bags, and prepares to fly back to Europe… and there is Gebirtig waiting for her. And now, almost without words, or hidden behind ordinary ones, it happens, the unexpected, the thing every author dreams of: without big gestures or expressions on the part of this woman, the audience feels the welling up of an emotion, the emotion they wish for, and they are seized by this emotion and they accept it. It’s only a very few minutes, and it’s one of the most moving moments of the whole film.
And because she can do a thing like that (she demonstrates it in other scenes as well), because she can transfer, seemingly without intent, her own deep emotion to the audience, I consider Ruth Rieser a great actress.
Georg Stefan Troller, Author and Filmmaker
Peter Turrini über Ruth Rieser
Over the years, I have seen Ruth Rieser many times on stage or in film. When I see her act, I am not only watching her or looking at her – I am fascinated by her. I have seldom seen an actress who could unite within herself two completely opposite basic attitudes: a vast poetic mystery, and a very earthly realism. In her roles she does not alternate between these two, she is always both at once.
Peter Turrini, Playwright