Miserably enduring life at a strict Prussian girls' school, Manuela Von Meinhardie is coaxed out of her shell by kindly teacher Fraulein Von Bernburg. However, while their burgeoning friendship enchants the other students, it arouses the ire of the Principal.
Adapted by Christa Winsloe from her own play, Yesterday and Tomorrow, this was one of the earliest lesbian dramas to reach a wide audience. Shot for 55,000 DM at the Potsdam military orphanage and Carl Fröhlich's Templehof studio, it was also the first German feature to be produced on a co-operative basis. However, the planned profit share largely fell through, as the producers kept the bulk of the six million deutschmarks that the picture grossed around the world.
Winsloe's story had been based on her own schooldays and the real Manuela (who was still disabled from throwing herself down the stairs) attended the premiere. But, while Winsloe was on set throughout the shoot, Fröhlich's presence, as supervising director, seems to have been more significant, as Austrian stage actress Leontine Sagan was making her directorial debut. The extent of Fröhlich's input is unknown, but the film is full of inspired touches. The accomplished opening montage efficiently established the tempo and tone of school life, while the use of light and shade recalled the Kammerspielfilme produced by the likes of F.W. Murnau in the mid-1920s. The insertion of occasional still vistas to suggest the ominous presence of the authoritarian male world beyond the Empress Augusta's boundaries was also highly effective. Considering that Talkies were still in their infancy, the soundtrack is astonishingly sophisticated, with the metaphorical exploitation of sound being complemented by its use to heighten the tensions caused around the school as the girls whisper their gossip and eventually break out into chanting Manuela's name. But it was the superimposition of Hertha Thiele and Dorothea Wieck's faces that proved the most enduring psychological and sensual moment, with its influence stretching to Ingmar Bergman's Persona and beyond. Indeed, the film inspired several imitations, including Acht Mädels im Boot (1932) and Anna und Elisabeth (1933), which reunited Wieck and Thiele. However, they were all banned after Nazis came to power, although Mädchen was initially reprieved by the addition of a pro-Party coda. A mediocre remake, directed by Géza von Radványi and starring Lilli Palmer and Romy Schneider, was released in 1958.
This very early Lesbian drama is still moving and aesthetically interesting.