Director: Leontine Sagan
Leontine Sagan's groundbreaking 1931 girls-school melodrama stands as one of the most passionate films about sexuality evermade. Like most classics, this now legendary film has over the years meant different things to different people in different cultural contexts. The following composite sample of how the move has been read and re-read indicates something of its subtle impact and enduring importance. Following the furore created by her ‘sucees de scandale', director Sagan made only one more film, (Men of Tomorrow for Alexander Korda in 1952 in the UK) after which she returned to her first calling, the stage, in England and later, South Africa, where she became instrumental in developing the dramatic arts during WW2 and was a co-founder of Johannesburg's National Theatre.
“There's another angle that will help sell the film for a short run on Broadway. That's the whispering campaign that managed to get started to the effect that the picture has to do with no such subject... it's merely an overlong and sometimes dull psychological study of a school girl's crush on her teacher... as entertainment it hasn't a leg to stand on." - Variety 27/9/1932
"One of the few films to have an inherently gay sensibility, it is also one of the few to be written, produced and directed by women. Thus the film shows an under- standing - missing from most films that touch on lesbian feelings-3 of the dynamic of women relating to women on their own terms.” - Vito Russo, 'The Celluloid Closer, 1981
"A willowy young girl in a fashionable school is unhappy under the harsh, Prussian discipline, she flowers when a sympathetic, understanding teacher gives her special consideration. This consideration is ambiguous and certainly sensual. The teacher is not viewed as decadent, or even naughty; she appears to be on the side of the liberal, humanitarian angels, yet she seems unmistakably lesbian... The picture is always described as sensitive, and it is, it's also a rather loaded piece of special pleading.” - Pauline Kael, '5001 Nights at the Movies', 1983
“The first German film to incorporate sound skilfully and thematically; the first film to treat lesbianism sympathetically ; and a film that dared attack authoritarianism at the time the climate was right for Hitler's rise to power - later Goebbels would ban the film and Sagan and much of the cast would flee the country." - Danny Peary, 'Guide for the Film Fanatic', 1987
Prints circulating in many countries including Australia have traditionally been incomplete, (due to the censorship standards of the day) and often dubbed into English. The Festival has imported an english inter-titled version, believed to he the best quality and most complete print available, for a special presentation by Festival guest Karola Gramann of her celebrated analysis of the film directly following the screening, Friday June 24th.