Child prodigy, scandalous author, traitor to the fatherland, feminist, fashion lover, communist, language terrorist, rebel, enfant terrible, nest fouler, brilliant, vulnerable artist.
Claudia Müller's film about Elfriede Jelinek, who in 2004 was the first German speaking female writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, focuses on her artistic approach to language. ELFRIEDE JELINEK - LANGUAGE UNLEASHED is a multi-layered, associative film portrait, full of contradictions; it approaches the linguistic montage technique of the artist from her very own close perspective. (production note)

“Look at me NOW!” says Elfriede Jelinek at the beginning of ELFRIEDE JELINEK - LANGUAGE UNLEASHED. She holds a piece of paper up to the camera, which she lowers briefly to reveal her face. On the paper is an arithmetic problem that explains the image onscreen. It is an arrangement that forces us to read – or rather, we read in order to see – and Jelinek writes in order to be seen. Seeing, in the sense of recognizing.  

Jelinek is shown on the move, in Vienna and other cities, in different decades. The journey begins with the Nobel Prize – Jelinek was the first Austrian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature – and works its way along specific themes that characterize the author’s work. Filmmaker Claudia Müller has made a name for herself with documentaries about such diverse personalities as Jenny Holzer, Shirin Neshat, VALIE EXPORT, and Helmut Lang. Here she works with her cinematographer Christine A. Maier with enthusiasm and aplomb, arranging current recordings and archive materials by, with, and about Jelinek into a portrait of the author.  

The range of the material is astonishing and manages to surprise again and again with something hitherto unknown. Müller and editor Mechthild Barth repeatedly opt for outtakes and peripheral materials, which allows us to enjoy film clips of Jelinek with her dog, for example, or holding a stack of prize money. They are images that offer resistance to the public image that is determined by a very different set of attributes. Texts read off-screen (by Stefanie Reinsperger and Sandra Hüller, among others) and material relating to dramatic events in contemporary Austrian history (such as the assassination of four Roma in Oberwart in 1995 and the massacre in Rechnitz in March 1945) complement the multi-layered collage of historical and contemporary materials.    

“... Everything has really been said,” Jelinek states towards the end. The author no longer appears in public nor explains anything. While Claudia Müller concentrates entirely on Jelinek’s work and thus her language, Müller’s film now gives us the opportunity to see – and to understand beyond one-dimensional causalities. (Sylvia Szely)

Translation: John Wojtowicz

Orig. Title
Germany, Austria
96 min
Claudia Müller
Orig. Language
English, french, spanish
EJLU_01 (Image)
EJLU_02 (Image)
EJLU_03 (Image)
Claudia Müller
Christine A. Maier
Eva Jantschitsch
Mechthild Barth
Sound Design
Johannes Schmelzer-Ziringer
Dramaturgical Advisor
Brigitte Landes
Martina Haubrich, CALA Film, Claudia Wohlgenannt, Plan C Film
Martin Wuttke, Sandra Hüller, Ilse Ritter, Maren Kroymann, Sophie Rois, Stefanie Reinsperger
Production Manager
Hanne Lassl
Elfriede Jelinek
Supported by
Filmförderung der BKM (Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien), Arte, BR, DFFF, ÖFI - Österreichisches Filminstitut, Filmfonds Wien, FISA Filmstandort Austria, ORF
Archival Research ORF
Silvia Heimader
Available Formats
DCP 2K flat (Distribution Copy)
Aspect Ratio
Sound Format
5.1 surround
Frame Rate
25 fps
Color Format
colour, b/w
Festivals (Selection)
Akademie des Östereichischen Films (Best Austrian Documentary 2023)
Deutsche Filmakademie (LOLA for Best German Documentary 2023)
München - Filmfest München (FIPRESCI Prize of the International Film Critics)
Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival
Porto - Post Porto Doc
Viennale - Vienna Int. Film Festival
Jihlava - International Documentary Festival
Lissabon - DocLisboa
Guanajuato - Festival internacional de Cine
Goldene Lola - German Film Awards (Best German Documentary 2023)
Warsaw - Docs Against Gravity Film Festival
Mallorca - Atlàntida Film Fest
Bologna - Biografilm Festival
Ankara - Women's Film Festival "The Flying Broom"
Graz - Diagonale, Festival des österreichischen Films
Tel Aviv - EPOS International Art Film Festival
Copenhagen - cph:dox, Intl Documentary Film Festival
Göteborg – Int. Film Festival
Ottawa - EUFF European Union Film Festival
Nantes - Festival Univerciné allemand
Ottawa - EUFF European Union Film Festival
Madrid, Festival de Cine Realizado por Mujeres
Zagreb - Arteria Festival Tjedan Filma o Umjetnicima
Vukovar International Film Festival