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Maedchen in Uniform (1931)

1 rating: 3.0
Art House & International and Gay & Lesbian movie directed by Carl Froelich and Leontine Sagan

An early feminist classic,Maedchen in Uniformwas originally banned in Germany and censored in the U.S. Set in a strict boarding school, the tale of a lonely girl's crush on a female teacher proved too sensual for many. With Eleanor Roosevelt's help, … see full wiki

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1 review about Maedchen in Uniform (1931)

One of the First Films Dealing with Homosexuality

  • Jul 4, 2010
"Maedchen in Uniform"

One of the First Films Dealing with Homosexuality

Amos Lassen

Made in 1931, "Maedchen in Uniform" is a German film in which a sensitive girl is sent to an all-girls boarding school and develops a romantic attachment to one of her teachers. It is one of the first narrative films to explicitly portray homosexuality.
Manuela is a spirited and independent teenager sent to a boarding school when her mother dies. The Prussian principal runs the school with an iron hand, believing that discipline and hunger strengthen a girl's character. Like the rest of the girls, Manuela develops a crush on Elizabeth Von Bernburg, a young teacher who believes it's important to be the children's trusted friend. Manuela's mistake is to announce her love in front of guests and students at a party following a school play. How will the principal discipline Manuela, and how will Fraulein Von Bernberg, Manuela, and the other girls react to the principal's decisions?
It is an emotionally draining melodrama with an all-female cast about an authoritarian Prussian boarding school for the daughters of officers and the bourgeoisie. The school's ideological aim is to strengthen character through strict discipline and blind obedience. Directed by a former Austrian stage actress Leontine Sagan, the film shows sympathy for the girls' plight and to show how their friendship warded off their oppression. Concern about the unmerciful authoritarian Prussian educational system was a precursor to fascism is apparent,
The story revolves around a vulnerable and sensitive 14-year-old orphan, Manuela von Meinhardis, whose aunt places her in the school and the popular teacher, Fraulein von Bernburg, who is more tender and loving than other staff members and therefore gains the affections of all the students. The girls are desperate for some affection. Von Bernburg offers Manuela her love in opposition to the school's policy of forming no emotional attachments with the students. This love is hinted at as more than motherly, and directly opposes the icy sternness of the martinet principal Fraulein von Oberin. The student-teacher relationship leads to but never goes that far as to show it as an active lesbian physical one, except for lots of warm touches and a warm kiss on the lips of Manuela by the teacher.
The principal has bad feelings for the unhappy Manuela and through various disciplinary ploys acts to squash the girl who has a crush on the only staff member who is concerned about her well being. When removed from performing in the school's Don Carlos play and forced to be isolated from her teacher, the melancholy Manuela attempts suicide. It is only the concern of the other girls that saves her.
It certainly was a film with a lesbian theme and one of the earliest to deal with it and it seems to be a call for a radical lesbian agenda. However, he film suffers due to its strident passé style, though its content is still provocative and the film is a more sweeping indictment against their oppressive country than it is a film just about lesbianism. The fearful girls who are kept in check by the discipline don't complain openly but try to smuggle out letters telling how the school is starving them. The film's value remains as both a rare film about women's issues and as an historical record of Germany in the 1930s. It also shows how the Weimar Republic reacted to homosexuality, or at least brought that issue to the public's attention in a constructive way without silly melodramatics. What struck me as being particularly eerie, was the school's striped uniforms looking similar to the ones worn by the concentration camp inmates.
The film was originally banned in Germany and because of increasing government pressure on director Leontine Sagan, she became an exile two years after the film was completed. The theme of how depressed conditions were in Germany as love was squashed and the only way out seemed to be suicide, gave the film a power that is still there.

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