“Mahler on the Couch”: Fictional Freudian Therapy

You may have never heard of the German film Mahler on the Couch (2010), a story about Austrian composer Gustav Mahler seeking professional help from Sigmund Freud. It hasn’t been widely released, it appears.

Eric Hynes of the Village Voice offers a more detailed description of the film:

During the late summer of 1910, a distraught Gustav Mahler journeyed to Holland to spend a single afternoon with a vacationing Sigmund Freud, and their onetime encounter serves as the departure point for this eccentric and expressionistic reverie on love, loss, and the birth of modern marriage. With Freud (Karl Markovics) as his interrogator, the distraught composer (Johannes Silberschneider) tells of an affair between his wife, Alma (Barbara Romaner), and the young architect Walter Gropius (Friedrich Mücke), before more intense analysis uncovers the domestic breakdown that preceded it. Much as David Cronenberg did with A Dangerous Method, another art-house psych-out matching a stogie-plugged Freud with a great man in meltdown mode, German filmmakers Percy and Felix Adlon use the boys as bait but hook us with their heroine.

Is it a true story? No. In an interview available on the film’s site, co-writer Percy Adlon: “That Mahler and Freud met in Leiden, Holland, for one afternoon in August 1910, is fact…Alma’s affair is fact. But what they spoke, and how the whole drama played out is fiction.”

Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter: “Markovics’ Freud is the odd man out here as he exists mostly to pose questions rather than as the subject of biographic scrutiny. Nevertheless, the scenes between the two giants of Viennese society contain much wit and humor, almost a play within a play.”

The comments of David DeWitt, New York Times, indicate that he likes the therapy part more than other elements of the film: “For all its drama (and creative filmmaking), the crisis that Mahler describes plays out airy and rote. Mr. Silberschneider and Ms. Romaner are clearly strong actors, but a core spontaneity seems missing, and their emoting veers toward melodrama. The Freud scenes, conversely, have mystery, movement, anticipation and wit. No question, I preferred Mahler on that couch.”

But John Anderson, Variety, doesn’t seem to like the movie at all: “Histrionic bordering on hysterical, ‘Mahler on the Couch’ reduces one of 20th-century music’s greatest figures to a dithering cuckold, his marriage to a feeble feminist allegory, and Sigmund Freud to a Viennese sitdown comic…(A) well-cast but emotionally cacophonous calamity that can’t decide if it wants to be comedy, tragedy or absurdist farce.”

The trailer for Mahler on the Couch:

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