September 25, 2020  (Web Review)

Mädchen in Uniform

Kino Lorber, 88 min., in German w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $24.95, July 14

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Based on Christa Winsloe’s autobiographical play Yesterday and Today and set in an all-girl Prussian boarding school, filmmaker Leontine Sagan’s German black-and-white Mädchen in Uniform (1931) is a seminal early LGBTQ classic. Hertha Thiele stars as 14-year-old Manuela (despite the Latin-sounding name, the character is a fair-haired Aryan), a newcomer to the strict institution run by a stern-faced headmistress (Emilia Unda) whose educational approach towards the girls is “hunger and discipline.” Prefiguring a rising Nazi Germany, the school is highly regimented and autocratic, a place where books are forbidden. But even living under Dickensian conditions, the girls still find some measure of joy talking and laughing amongst themselves, and many have a crush on the beautiful teacher Frl. Von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck). Manuela—who Von Bernburg calls “an emotional young girl”—swoons the deepest, ultimately sharing a long kiss with the instructor, who also gives Manuela a set of undergarments to replace her tattered ones. Eventually, the closeness between Von Bernburg and Manuela is revealed and the headmistress punishes both, although Von Bernburg fiercely and defiantly responds that the “spirit of love…takes a thousand forms.” Favorably reviewed, the film had only a limited release in the U.S. (it was banned in Boston), and has inspired numerous remakes, including an identically titled 1958 film starring Romy Schneider (see review in VL Online-1/11). Bowing on Blu-ray with a luminous digital transfer, extras include an audio commentary by film historian Jenni Olson. Recommended. (R. Pitman)