Mädchen in Uniform

Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform). DVD. Screening copy. Dir. Géza von Radványi. With Romy Schneider, Lilli Palmer. Central Cinema Company Film, 1958. Redistributed by Wolfe Video, 2010. In German with English subtitles. 95 min. $14.95.

Many of the queer women I know have a story about watching the original 1931 version of Mädchen in Uniform. The stories generally involve a bootlegged VHS tape with poor tracking procured from an independent video store, or being passed around amongst a group of friends. While this 1958 remake is not as seminal a work as the 1931 classic, it is a treasure in its own right, and Wolfe has done a great service by providing the film on video for the first time ever.

The story follows Manuela von Meinhardis, a recently orphaned teenager, as she is sent to a strict convent for girls. The faculty of the school believes in stern discipline – a dictum on the girls’ bedroom wall reads, “We’re not put on this earth to be happy, but to do our duty.” The exception is Fräulein von Bernburg, whose loving treatment of the girls leaves many of them feeling smitten. Manuela begins to fall for Frl. von Bernburg, and the two share an innocent kiss as they practice a scene from Romeo and Juliet. But, things take a turn when Manuela reveals her feelings to the head of the convent, and their love is not meant to be (it is a lesbian movie, after all).

The film itself is beautiful to watch, as the Eastman Color lends a lovely hue. Though not quite as groundbreaking as the original, this version of Mädchen in Uniform notably includes a few celebrated German actresses, who were likely risking their careers by appearing in the film.

Wolfe Video is marketing Mädchen in Uniform as a companion piece to their 2006 release Loving Annabelle, which also featured a student/teacher love affair. However, Mädchen should perhaps be recognized less for the plot element of forbidden love than the emotionally honest portrayal of lesbian love in an intolerant era. Highly recommended.

 

Reviewed by, Caitlin Shanley
Instructional Design and Technology Librarian
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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