First Run Features,

Monika Treut

Astrid Stroher,
Monika Treut

Inga Busch,
Huan-Ru Ke,
Ting Ting Hu,
Jana Schulz,
Marek Harloff,
Jack Kao,
Yi-Ching Lu,
Kevin Shih Hung Chen,
Nick Dong-Sik

Unrated, 89 minutes

Photos Of Ghosts
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, August 2009

When discussing the great gay German film directors, three names spring to mind: the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Rosa Von Praunheim and Monika Treut. Ms. Treut entered the international cinema spotlight in 1985 with Seduction: The Cruel Woman (Verfuhrung: Die Grausame Frau) and 1988 with Virgin Machine (Die Jungfrauenmaschine). Having grown up with the films of Fassbinder and Von Praunheim on German television, Treut's films were anything but conventional. Her themes included lesbian S&M and inverted gender studies. During the 90s, she turned towards documentaries and her 1999 Gendernauts drew praise for its celebration of the transgendered. Her newest effort, 2009's Ghosted (Ai-mei), is her first fiction film in over a decade.

Ghosted is a very unusual and enigmatic love story that is ultimately muddled by a puzzling foray into the supernatural. Sophie Schmitt (Inga Busch) is an artist from Hamburg, Germany who has traveled to Taipei, Taiwan for the opening of her new video installation. The artwork celebrates, and is dedicated to, her young Taiwanese lover, Ai-ling Chen (Huan-Ru Ke) who died under mysterious circumstances earlier that year. Sophie is just beginning to be able to move past this tragedy, but remains overcome by grief and is unable, or unwilling, to speak about her loss.

Sophie is disturbed by another presence at the art gallery opening. A beautiful woman is transfixed by Sophie's art. She is Mei Li (Ting Ting Hu), a young journalist who aggressively wants to score an interview with the elusive Sophie. The artist is intrigued but is in no shape to talk about her beloved Ai-ling, let alone allow herself to be seduced by the persistent (and horny) reporter. When Mei Li crosses the line, Sophie flees back to Hamburg without a word. Things start to get a little weird when Mei Li shows up on Sophie's doorstep and the distraught artist is no longer able to deny the attraction between them.

Love stories can be a dime a dozen, but this one caught me in its grip and held me spellbound for most of its length. Told in a non-linear style, much of it in flashback, the tale's focus is the passionate love between Sophie and Ai-ling as it leads up to the mystery surrounding Ai-ling's death. For three quarters of the film's length we are kept in the dark regarding Ai-ling's fate and several scenarios are subtly suggested. Ghosted begins with a brief prologue in which Ai-ling's arrives in Germany. Ai-ling is visiting her uncle, wishing to learn more about her family's past. Knowing that her father and her uncle had a falling out (which her mother has always refused to discuss), Ai-ling begins to have suspicions regarding her parentage. Did her eventual discovery induce thoughts of suicide? Or was she, perhaps, in danger because her uncle, who runs a chain of Chinese restaurants, owes money to the German mob? Did a rift suddenly occur between Ai-ling and Sophie? All we know for certain is that Sophie, who recently recovered from a life threatening illness and has just now returned to her art, has fallen for a woman with many secrets and issues.

Ghosted is a very sexy and romantic film. Interspersed throughout the loving flashbacks is a secondary story that involves the journalist Mei Li as she tries to ingratiate herself into Sophie's life. For a time, she is successful and manages to rekindles the artist's passions... until Sophie begins to suspect that Mei Li is not what she seems.

At this point, the story starts to get a little weird. When Mei Li first breaks through Sophie's defenses, an image of Ai-ling (on the artist's computer screen) breaks up and transforms into Mei Li. Sophie was working on a documentary about Taiwanese women living in Germany and several of her subjects talk about their native superstitions regarding ghosts. A late scenario that suggests that Mei Li might be a ghost (or possessed?) is a tad confusing, if not incoherent. The key seems to lie in an ancient custom centered around the "ghost month," but I freely admit that my own knowledge of oriental mysticism and folklore is limited. Ms. Treut may have been aiming for an ambitious and ambiguous ghost story along the lines of Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now, or Henry James classic' The Turn Of The Screw - a ghost story that lends itself towards multiple interpretations.

Leaving the spirit world aside, the rest of Ghosted commanded my attention. I liked that the lesbian aspect to the love story was handled so matter-of-factly. The inter-racial dimension to the romance was also refreshing. Sophie is a rather masculine woman (other reviewers have compared her facial features to Sarah Bernhard's), lending a nice butch-femme dynamic to the film. The cinematography is exceptional with lots of atmosphere and exotic locales. Ghosted is bookended by a mysterious Taiwanese ritual and images of flames. Transitions from past to present are fluid and smooth. One of the loveliest moments occurs when a flashback ends and Sophie is surprised when she awakens in Mei Li's embrace rather than her beloved's.

While not quite the deliberately shocking tracts that director Treut cut her teeth on in the 1980s, Ghosted is an entertaining love story with an edge. There is much to recommend but, to be honest, Ghosted lost me in its final act as the supernatural elements began to take over.

[Reviewer's addition: Ghosted is now available on DVD and includes a 56 minute bonus documentary entitled Tiger Women Grow Wings.]


An interview with Monika Treut can be seen in:
Lavender Limelight
Lesbian Nation