Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Madchen in Uniform

(This is perhaps the most famous scene from the film in which Frau. Von Bernberg goes around to each of the beds and kisses each girl goodnight on the cheek. However, when she gets to Manuela, she kissed her lightly on the lips. I was shocked the first time I saw this. I cant even imagine how the audiences of 1931 felt)

One of the best films ever made was nearly destroyed by the nazi administration in WWII. When one considers the time and context in which it was made, its progressiveness is astounding.

The original play written by Christa Winsloe tells the tragic story of the relationship between a student and teacher in a strict, all-girls boarding school located in Prussia. The young, motherless, Manuela arrives at the boarding school in a delicate emotional state. Shy and uncomfortable with being uprooted to a new place, she appears very soft-skinned to the staff. At the time, Prussia was in a state of constant military conflict, so the way of life was staunch and formal, emotions were not to be shown. At this school, the girls were trained to be mothers of soldiers, to master the emotional restraint required by their country. While all the other staff is cold to Manuela, the lovely teacher Fraulein Von Bernburg, takes pity on her plight and takes her under her wing. Over time however, Manuela develops a deep attachment to the kind teacher. Her emotions culminate after a school play, in which Manuela plays the heroic knight in shining armor to great aplomb. After ingesting too much punch, Manuela announces her affection to the entire staff and student body. Following this, Manuela in immediately quarentined for her "unwholesome" impulses toward Von Bernburg. When Manuela is told that she will never be able to see her beloved teacher again, she jumps from the top of the school's staircase, falling to her death.

This is a vast oversimplification, but as one can see, the story's sympathetic treatment of Manuela's sapphic desire is ground breaking to say the least, esp. considering that the film was made in 1931.

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