Mahler's visit with Freud opens New York Jewish Film Festival
The mostly fictional movie’s exploration of Mahler’s torment over his wife Alma’s adultery reveals resonant emotional truth to reality.
“Mahler on the Couch,” a lush fictionalization of a 1910 meeting between composer Gustav Mahler and psychologist Sigmund Freud, opens the New York Jewish Film Festival on January 12. The film, from German father-and-son filmmakers Percy and Felix Adlon, is mostly fiction: Only one historical account notes the meeting between the two boldfaced names, and such a meeting’s substance can never be known. But the movie’s exploration of Mahler’s torment over his wife Alma’s adultery reveals resonant emotional truth.
For a movie about the death of a romance, “Mahler on the Couch” is an eminently romantic film — contemplatively focused on the sublime bliss that humans can achieve through love. Mahler catches Freud in Leiden, Netherlands, as the good doctor is en route to his summer holidays in Sicily, and their initial consultation takes place as they wander through gorgeous empty squares, along canals and through alleys, as blind and crooked as the subconscious. Despite having traveled all the way from Austria for the meeting with Freud, Mahler clearly wants to avoid discussing the affair that Alma had engaged in with famed Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. He also wants to hide from his own guilt over having subverted Alma’s deep musical talents in the name of his own ego. Apparently, he has already canceled several appointments with Freud to analyze the affair and his debilitating reaction to it. “Neurosis or not, it’s an insult,” Freud says, reprimanding Mahler. One can only conjecture as to whether Mahler was billed for the missed appointments.