Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

And we’re back with the second film in the Pioneers of Queer Cinema bundle, Mädchen in Uniform, AKA Girls in Uniform. This is a very lady power movie: based on a play by a female writer, this has a female director and I’m pretty sure not a single man appears in the film. Very rare by today’s standards, but this was made in 1931 so I guess there’s another reason our current world sucks. Anyway…

Manuela is a young girl (14 and a half) sent to an all-girls boarding school. Her mother is dead, her father is a soldier, and her aunt just… felt this was a better fit. Manuela makes friends with the other girls, but falls in love with her teacher, Fräulein von Bernburg, a woman with the seductive stare of a hundred year old vampire. Like, the movie tones it down because “we can’t glorify homosexuality” and portrays it as a crush, but it’s pretty gay. The strict headmistress organizes the students to put on a play for her birthday, and Manuela is the breakout star. Alcohol gets served at the after party and a drunk Manuela tells all the other girls how much she loves von Bernburg. Too bad the headmistress hears, and does her best to seclude and punish the girl. Fräulein von Bernburg tells Manuela that while she cares for her, they can’t speak to each other again, which drives Manuela to try and jump off a very high staircase. She’s rescued by the other students, who stare down the headmistress as she slinks off alone and defeated.

A rather abrupt end, but from what I understand the original play (as well as the later novelization, Das Mädchen Manuela) had Manuela die. A bit dark, especially since the author, Christa Winsloe, was a queer woman who went to a German boarding school after her mother died. Sure, in the movie it’s a Prussian school, but it’s not hard to see the parallels. And while Winsloe did marry a man, it didn’t work out and she used the generous money from the divorce to finance the play that became the movie. Living the dream! As for the movie itself, it’s pretty good. There are some weird editing moments–a scene with music, then a cut to somewhere else without music, then cut back to the first shot with the music continuing as if nothing happened–but the acting more than makes up for it. There are a lot of girls so not everyone gets a moment to shine, but Ilse and Edelgard were pretty good, too. Turns out that’s a real, Germanic name and not something Fire Emblem: Three Houses made up! Every day is an opportunity to learn new things.

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