Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

Often times when you’ve been indoctrinated to conform to what is perceived as societal norms, the emotions between two people can be mixed and misguided. Leontine Sagan’s romance drama is a brilliant tale of unrequited love between two women and the confusion of identity amidst such an archaic institution. There’s nothing really discreet when it comes to what happens behind the walls of the boarding school as the girls within have essentially adapted to turning to one another for comfort.

Newly orphaned young Manuela von Meinhardis (Hertha Thiele) struggles to adjust to the stern discipline of a board school for girls. In time, she gains confidence through a friendship with one of her teachers Mrs. Von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck). But relationships between women are not permitted, and under the constant threat of punishment or expulsion, Manuela desperately tries to keep hope and love alive.

Although the all female faculty struggles to maintain some rigid schedule among them, the oppression is destroyed when the girls express their love to one another in romantic, albeit chaste ways. Dorothea Wieck’s Mrs. Von Bernburg represents a new way of thinking and somewhat embracing the open expression of feelings between women. Whether or not she is gay remains incredibly ambiguous throughout, allowing for an interesting interpretation on Von Bernburg’s way of communicating with her students. Is Von Bernburg truly in love with Manuela as much as Manuela is her, or is she merely trying to be the mother she needs? Is Manuela in love with her governess, or is she still craving the motherly affection she’s missed out on? Has Von Bernburg convinced herself her feelings for Manuela are chaste?

The whole prospect of love between women is challenged behind these walls, as lot of the dynamic between Manuela’s very apparent affection toward women and her teacher. This becomes a scandal made especially explosive by Fräulein von Nordeck who works overtime to quell any new ways of opening up the student body and punishes any and all flights of fancy they may possess. Ultimately, Sagan’s direction is often magnificent as he films the boarding school as the symbol of Manuela’s distress, and the long tragic legacy of repression, and oppression epitomized by the truly poetic final shot. “Mädchen in Uniform” is a beautiful and wonderfully acted drama, filled with excellent performances by all female cast, along with posing provocative questions and overtones that are still very volatile today.

Playing in Virtual Cinemas across the U.S. June 12th (and the Film Forum on July 3rd) as a part of Kino Lorber’s PIONEERS OF QUEER CINEMA program for Pride Month.