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The original play "Gestern und Morgen" had its premiere in 1930 and was an
immediate success. This prompted Carl Froelich to adapt the play for film.
Both leading actress of the play Hertha Thiele (her first film) and the
original director of the play Leontine Sagan (also her first film) were
invited to join. The direction was split into direction of the cast and
mise-en-scene by Leontine Sagan and overall direction by Carl Froelich;
means that Froelich was responsible for the overall quality of the film
German: Künstleriche Oberleitung).
The play as well as the later novel emphasizes the sexual/lesbian love theme, but the film adaptation was toned down; the original sad end was replaced by a happy end. Though the film goes as far as it can in its theme of (awakening) lesbian feelings and sexual feelings of young girls in general, shifting emphasis automatically meant concentrating on the theme of the cold and inhumane authoritarian (Prussian) way of life and upbringing, a way of thinking still present in the Weimar republic and in 1931 already considered a danger to the young republic. Then audiences were more interested in this aspect than in the sexual one. Despite this it still remains a remarkable film of the Weimar period in depicting the more loosening attitude towards sexuality in general as well as the dismissal of the old authoritarian life style, though, and this is the weak point of the premise, it never succeeds- in relating the two. A political stand this film certainly takes not, but, as the original title "Yesterday and Tomorrow" says, this film makes a plea for a more liberal and humane society. Of course the film was banned after the Nazi take-over (though for some obscure reason Goebbels liked the film "as film").
The old way of thinking is shown in some remarkable images. The opening of the film, after some shots of Potsdam, shows first the marching of soldiers than cuts to a walk of the girls; the girls do not walk, but march as the soldiers do. The Prussian authority is represented by the Frau Oberin whose presence in the film is that like an average hard boiled Prussian king (and not unlike Frederick the Great, the king who was depicted in nationalist films in the 20' and 30's a number of times)); her hairdo is not simply a way to wear one's hair, it fits like a crown on her head. When she presides a meeting with the other teachers, she presides as a queen, sitting slightly above the level of the teachers. Fear for authority is conveyed through the Von Kenten character whose physical attitude constantly is that of a writhed of fear, human being.
Note the military trumpet in the final scene (one of the examples of the excellent use of sound) as Frau Oberin walks resigned through the corridor: there may have been a small relapse in the system within the institution, the trumpet tells us that outside things are still unchanged.
The direction of Sagan/Froelich and the cinematography are outstanding, but it could never have become the classic it is if both Hertha Thiele and Dorothea Wieck had not been in the lead. Photogenic Thiele plays Manuela as a sensitive, but still proud girl; Wieck gives the Von Bernburg character all the subtleties and uncertainties it needs. But let's not forget the completely forgotten actress Ellen von Schwannecke as a wonderful Ilse. Thiele and Wieck would repeat their co-operation in an amazing film by Frank Wysbar (one of the producers of "Mädchen"): Anna und Elisabeth (1933), also a film with a lesbian theme.
A very odd aspect is also noteworthy. The 4 main people involved can be divided in 2 sub groups: Hertha Thiele and Leontine Sagan went into exile in 1933 and were not to have a career after 1945 in West-Germany, while Dorothea Wieck and Carl Froelich (he became member of the NSDAP) continued their careers in Nazi Germany and after 1945. Convinced of it that involvement in this film also meant according its basic ideas (remember that it was not an established production company that made the film, but a collective), this split-up of minds can almost be seen as symbol for the schism in Germany.
For a complete understanding of this film and the play I recommend to read the novel as well.
Filmed in pre-National Socialist Germany when the economy was at a true low. The girls at this Catholic boarding school are slight, pale, hungry creatures -for food and comfort. Daughters of soldiers, they are taught discipline and deprivation, not luxury. The girls, however, have more personality and strength of character than those in the majority of movies produced nowadays. Manuela is a highly emotional 14 year old 'new girl' who has no mother. She, like the rest of her classmates, yearns for the attention of the fair and beautiful Fraulein von Burnberg. Ilse is the school trouble-maker, leader, and clown. Witty and outspoken, she repeatedly entertains the other girls, binding them together in secret comradery against their oppressive elders. At an after-play function Manuela is the only student who can tolerate the taste of the punch given to them as a reward. Her friends pass their cups on to her and she soon gets herself quite drunk. In a semi-conscious state she announces her feelings for the popular Fraulein von Burnberg to the entire school along with the infuriated Headmistress. These girls are not all lesbians, they are merely children starved of human contact and love. As a result they throw their hearts at the open mind and kind heart of Frau von Burnberg. I found it surprising and beautiful how loyal the girls were to each other. There is very little rivalry or conflict among the students, a vast contrast to the modern representation of teens. Even when Manuela embarrasses herself horribly in front of the school, her classmates stick by her without hesitation. That's cool.
I found this film to be both touching and disturbing. Innovative and bold, Madchen in Uniform exposes social taboos in its depiction of lesbianism and teacher-student relationships. Beyond the subject matter, I was impressed with the acting and camera work, which seemed to tell a story all on its own. The quality of the film was certainly poor and the subtitles leave much to question, but the overall effect of the film is poignant. It succeeds in lifting the veil which conceals adolescent female life and without exploiting the budding sexuality of young girls, a phenomenon too often seen in cinema today. It seems strange that this careful balance of exposition and preservation was better kept seventy years ago than it is today. Should this movie be re-made now, one would doubtless see nudity,stereotypical lesbian behavior and exploitation of the relationship between the student and teacher. This film reminds us that a film doesn't have to shock us to be sexually provacative.
Mädchen in Uniform This was a very bold film. It presents the controversies
of lesbianism, teacher-student relationships, and antifascism in Germany in
the 30's. The acting is of great quality. You don't need to know German to
understand what's going on, even with out the subtitles. I find it
interesting that feminine sexual powers are used throughout the film. The
beloved teacher, Fräulein von Bernburg, uses her sexual powers to win the
affection of the children, keeping them in check. During rehearsals for a
play, one of the girls is told to use her feminine powers (to be more
seductive) to play her part. Sex appeal is also mentioned in describing a
movie star. The antifascism isn't blatant in the film, but in the opening
scene, we see soldiers marching and then the schoolgirls marching, hinting
at the hidden meaning. This film has a place in history and is worth
Even though this film wasn't the most crowd-pleasing one I've seen lately, I think it's a rather important one. The openly lesbian themes of the movie are quite surprising, considering that the movie was made in 1931. The theme of sexual discovery in a girls' boarding school was quite revolutionary for film at the time. It was also an interesting critique of society, and was very anti-fascist. The Prussian principal represents the authoritarian, militaristic aspect of society, while the kind teacher represents a more maternal and loving part. The combination of lesbian themes with that kind character shows us that a more female-dominated society would be a positive change. The Prussian school shows that women are oppressed by patriarchal society into a militaristic machine, and the rebel teacher is a movement away from that. This film is an intriguing view of life right before Hitler. It provides a meaningful glimpse into the lesbian subculture of Berlin before the Nazis came to power.
This was more than a gay classic, this film was a social commentary on the
time period it was set in. We all now well know the views held on
homosexuality by Hitler's socialist party which was coming into power
the time this movie was made. The entire film foreshadowed many of the
things that would happen to people who were not seen as desirable in the
eyes of the German government. One part especially, where the students and
teachers were forbidden to have contact with Manuela, spoke of the public
shunning of Jews and other so-called undesirables who were forbidden
with other people.
Of the three movies that Leontine Sagan directed this was the only one made
in Germany. Given the fact that Sagan was of Jewish ancestry and the main
theme of this movie was of love between women, it's not hard to see why her
career in Germany was short lived.
Mädchen in Uniform is a very impressive German film that presents an
sexual awakening in an equally unusual situation, which leads to some
complex content to analyze. It is clearly the presentation of a sexuality
that is not considered normal, but it is not necessarily a lesbian film. I
think that the fact that there is not a single man in the film and, even
more, the intimate relationship between Manuela and Fräulein von Bernburg,
give the impression that there is a strong lesbian undertone in the film,
but I don't think that it was meant to be seen that way. It seemed to me
that it was more of a coming of age film than a lesbian film.
I think that Mädchen in Uniform was the portrayal of a girl who needed a higher than average amount of attention and who was reaching the age where her sexuality was beginning to take form, and because she was in an all-girl school and had no male influence in her life, she attached to the most accessible person who could fulfill those needs - Fräulein von Bernburg. It seemed to me that Manuela became so amorously attached to Fräulein von Bernburg more because of a lack of options than because of an interest in the same sex. There is undeniably a lot of female/female eroticism in the film (such as that goodnight kiss), but I don't think that it is a portrayal of lesbianism. It seems to me that the film has at least as much to say about budding sexuality and freedom of exploration for teenagers as it does about homosexuality.
Manuela's needs for attention (and the same need harbored by the other girls in the film) was most directly presented in the scene where Fräulein von Bernburg comes through the room to kiss the girls goodnight one by one. In the novel Swann's Way, Marcel Proust presents a character who is so obsessed with his goodnight kiss from his mother that he literally fantasizes about it all day, and then is miserable after she kisses him because he will have to wait so long before he gets that attention from her again. He is completely dependent on that kiss, and in that gigantic novel, a large part of the reason that he is so obsessed with his mother's kiss is because he is largely isolated from the outside world an has an emotionally distant father. His only source of affectionate attention is from his mother, and it is portrayed in a way that almost seems incestuous because he loves so much to feel his mothers lips on his face. This is the same thing that is going on in Mädchen in Uniform, except in a slightly different form.
Now, whether or not Mädchen in Uniform is, in fact, a lesbian film, there are definitely some typical stereotypes derailed in the close of the movie. Manuela was driven to the point of suicide by the adults at the all-girl school she attended, and it was the children who had to come in to save her (which is an element of the story that strengthens the assertion that it supports freedom for teenagers, who are clearly able to make wise decisions on their own), and there is also the fact that she did not commit suicide, which is significant because it would have been the stereotypical way for a woman (especially a homosexual woman) to respond to a stressful situation that she cannot control.
It seemed to me that in that way, the movie broke down a some stereotypes, but it is important to really analyze the film so that we can see what, if any, stereotypes are applied to the characters and to the story. The sexuality in the film is obviously not traditional, but one must take into account the circumstances under which that sexuality is portrayed before one can decipher a specific message from the film.
What's a girl to do when she is surrounded by women in a female boarding school? She falls in love with her female teacher who shares some mutual feelings. This film is not so much about lesbianism as it is about Germany was striving to become so disciplined and unfeeling towards one another. Of course, lesbianism was bound to happen. There were no other options. You have a girl who wants to be loved and love just seems unthinkable in the German culture of the Nazi uprising. Even though this film was made in 1931, the girls' uniforms reminded me of the concentration camps uniforms. The school was trying to discourage close relationships between girls and among teachers and students. I don't think of it much as a lesbian film as a chilling portrait of how Germany was bounded for destruction during World War II. Maybe the film points as a good reminder of how relationships should be encouraged and feelings are human. This school was trying to restrict the girls' humanity into an almost robotlike existence. That's how I always saw this film. I never thought of it as a lesbian film because the girls in the school had no other choice or option. They weren't allowed freedom and that's what the major theme of this movie is. Germany was beginning to restrict it's freedom on their citizens and forcing them to become less human in order to succeed but that's just my opinion.
Beautifully filmed. By turns touching, funny, and painfully
It is definitely a classic. A wonderful story for the gay/lesbian audience, and anti-authoritarian to anyone else who's interested. Wonderful artistic depiction of the characters.
Besides, Dorothea Wieck really is hot.
Although it would have been nice to see a well-restored and cleaned-up print of this, which was not the case, it still seems an exceptionally well made film for its era. The camera work was fluid and the sound was decent. It is a rich, provocative study with much to think about. While famously seen as a lesbian story, and that is part of it to be sure, it also concerns the rigid authoritarianism of its particular time and place, which soon led to so much sorrow and tragedy and sends out a strong feminist and tolerant message. The story is never boring and easily holds one's interest these many years later. It is strongly atmospheric and immerses one in the hothouse environs of the strictly disciplined, all-female world, where the girls develop close and intimate relationships and passionate crushes on their favorite teacher, Dorothea Wieck. She is fine here, and so is Hertha Thiele as Manuela, the primary focus of the story, but then the entire cast performs well, including Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann and wife of W.H. Auden, as a bespectacled, tattle-tale instructor always running to the head of the school. The ending sent out a strong message and worked well, though you are left on your own to wonder how things resolved themselves as per the two lead characters. Well worthwhile to see if you can find it!
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