Lesbian Traces in Film

The new Millennium

Unknown FriendZärtliche BegierdeA Baby, oh Baby!Doppelter Einsatz: Blutroter MondLieb michThe Journey to KafiristanAffäre zu drittLiebe und VerlangenGallant GirlsBeautiful WomenWanted!Abgefahren

After a number of years in prison a young woman comes back and searches her in the meantime the "Fremde Freundin" [Unknown Friend] (1999). Ellen had beaten Katrin’s boyfriend to death, didn’t she? In a tense play for a small stage Ellen forces Katrin to remember and despite her resistance it now not only turns out that Ellen liked her friend Katrin more than just the average but also, that Katrin and not Ellen was responsible for the death of the boyfriend. Director Anne Hoegh Krohn dissects with a razor blade a seemingly sacrosanct friendship between two women.

Maybe it were the viewing figures of these public broadcasts, that moved specifically RTL to a number of films with a lesbian content. In 1999 with Zärtliche Begierde“ (Michael Keusch) a comedy emerged about a wife, feeling neglected, who falls in love with her motorbike riding lesbian neighbour. They start an affair, but eventually she turns back to her remorseful husband. It stays open, if the lesbian neighbour disappears from her life completely or not. The interesting thing about this shallow marriage comedy is the permanent superiority of the lesbian: she is independent and self-assured, integrated into Hamburg lesbian scene and even in her pain of loss seems to more capable of living her life and not at last more fair than the heterosexually acting ones – although even she dreamed of a life for two and a cosy home.

In Austria Wolfgang Murnberger made Zwei Frauen, ein Mann und ein Baby [A Baby, oh Baby!]“. A lesbian couple would like to have a baby. Iris hires a man and everything starts quite well, but unfortunately her girlfriend Sandra falls in love with him and splits up with her. The underlying message here is, that in a lesbian relationship at least one of them could be a bisexual. The heterosexual story runs parallel with Iris’ experiences at the Vienna lesbian scene. After a wild gay and lesbian clubbing event the key cutting service has to jump in because awkwardly the keys for the handcuffs got lost in the chaos and Iris is chained to her new lover ... And in the end Iris and Sandra find back together after all, in front of the altar, that was actually planned for the father of the child. The irritating heterosexual story certainly is designed to broaden up the audience and all together takes too much space. Despite being rather a minor set, a Vienna gay/ lesbian bar is the central place, in which all strings run together, in which hearts open up, news are commented upon and analysed or new contacts are made. The clubbing event does not belong to their usual life, although Iris and Sandra are known lesbians to everyone around them and are more or sometimes less accepted. The event represents a decadent gay world that is strange even to Iris when she goes there.

RTL realised the potential1 and let one of their main serial detectives, Sabrina, in Doppelter Einsatz: Blutroter Mond (2000, Torsten C. Fischer) spend a night with the suspected woman. After all the lesbian is not the one to be arrested, but Sabrina feels betrayed and therefore certainly cannot stay together with her. The broadcasting companies under public law followed with Lieb mich!" (2000) by Maris Pfeiffer. The married mother of a small boy starts an affair with his self-assured teacher and by doing so runs herself into many doubts about her own life. But in the end – and apparently this is still essential for the German television audience in 2000 – she goes back to her family.

At the beginning of the new millennium the two brothers Donatello and Fosco Dubini made “Die Reise nach Kafiristan [Journey to Kafiristan]” (2001), a road movie, that tells about the authentic journey, that the Jewish author Annemarie Schwarzenbach with the ethnologist Ella Maillart did in spring 1939 to Afghanistan. The film does not claim to be biographic, but – according to the press release2 – concentrates among other things on “friendship and relationship”. But sadly the snippets of information are incomprehensible without knowing the biography; the friendship between Maillart and Schwarzenbach stays mostly cold and the night, that Schwarzenbach spends with the invalid daughter of the ambassador in Teheran is out of relation and therefore hardly comprehensible.3 The pictures, that were supposed to introduce two very interesting women are “lifeless, boring".4

Eternal triangle have always been a favourite with “makers” of films, because they cover so many different audiences. That was probably the reason why Affäre zu dritt (Sat 1, 2003, Josh Broecker) was produced. In this film a coroner has an affair with a colleague of her husband, but does not understand herself as a lesbian or bisexual. In the end in a dangerous situation the policewoman (the lover) does not save her rivals life and thus looses her lover, who cannot forgive her although her badly injured husband survives. If you substituted her lover Franziska by a man there would not be anything to say about this film.

Other than that the ZDF production Liebe und Verlangen(2003, Judith Kennel)almost meant a ray of hope to the tormented lesbian television audience in Germany. A married housewife and mother falls in love with a lesbian teacher. Her husband is headmaster at the teacher’s school. The dramatic love story takes place in a small town near Cologne and stirs up hostility and perfidious reports, that almost destroy the life of the teacher. Explicitly through this film it becomes clear, that the lesbian in German television is rather treated as a single existence. The putative lesbians are all loners, have few or no friends and live outside any feminist consciousness. The women have no support by any whatsoever structured ‘scene’, they do not know anything about help lines, self-help groups or solidarity. Today’s absence of a politically active women (lesbian) movement is exceptionally well readable in these productions. By stepping out of a negatively associated lesbian surrounding the lesbian comes closer to the “normal” and receives pleasant features.5 At least the two women leave the town together in the end and start a new life together. With this they go with happy endings à la Hollywood: The escape from a disturbing world brings cosy togetherness; but neither (marriage like) relationship structures are questioned nor the conflict of the “outside” and “inside” solved.

In her interesting project Die Ritterinnen [Gallant Girls](2002/2003) filmmaker Barbara Teufel in a half documentary way looks back to a group of autonomous left-wing women, that in Berlin at the end of the eighties wanted to change the world. In scenic plays Teufel shows the political atmosphere of breaking up, left-wing love and live and the activities and conflicts. Those scenes are interwoven by interviews with the “real” women looking back. If possibly a rare example of feminist reflection, this film raises some questions concerning the portrayed time, which it does not answer thoroughly.

Five Schöne Frauen [Beautiful Women] (Sathyan Ramesh) meet – also in 2003 – at casting, try their ability to deal with rivalry, have fun together and turn their back on their roles in the film. In the first scene one of them, Geno, was introduced as living a lesbian relationship. Even if the following conflicts mostly are about men, the lesbian relationship is naturally equal and is equally treated. Friendships between women, that come up, are supposed to be deep and finally the coolest and the saddest spend a night together. After all lesbian attraction seems to be a real opportunity in serious productions.

Nachbarinnen [Wanted!] (2003) also tells a story about two completely different women coming close to each other. The frustrated Dora has comforted herself in her pain after a break up and secluded herself. She would very much like to hand over Jola to the police to be able to keep suppressing undisturbed, but she cannot do it. Jola, a Polish woman in love with life was looking for hide at Dora’s after an exchange of shots with her attacking boss. Despite Dora’s feelings towards this situation she more and more feels attracted by Jola and invents lies to keep her with her, although she had been trying to drive Jola away. That both women spend a night together the film only mentions unspectacularly in passing. That is not what this is all about. It is about being able to admit being close with another person without wanting to chain the other to oneself. And Jola also does not want to be used as an anchor by a lonely and hurt woman. “Wanted!” is a cautiously filmed love comedy about fears, closeness and communication, that raises interest to the further work of directing novice Meletzky.

Certainly Abgefahren(2004, Jakob Schäuffelen) is not a lesbian film, because its superficial entertainment only is a vehicle for its star, Felicitas Woll of the series “Berlin, Berlin”6, als Vehikel. Auch in der ersten Staffel der Serie gab es eine Lesbe, Rosalie, dargestellt von Sandra Borgmann, die der charismatischen Felicitas Woll mitunter die Show zu stehlen drohte. Da die Serie gute Einschaltquoten verzeichnen konnte (sie erreichte durchschnittlich drei Millionen ZuschauerInnen7), wurde Wolls Figur der Lolle in die Figur der Mia in „Abgefahren“ transponiert, die ebenfalls etwas chaotisch ist und nicht so recht weiß, ob sie die Frau oder den Mann will, sich aber schlussendlich doch natürlich für den Mann entscheidet. Mia träumt von einer Karriere als Rennfahrerin, techtelt dabei vorsichtig mit der coolen Fahrerin Sherin und geht dann dem scheinbar chauvinistischen Rennfahrer Cosmo auf den Leim, der sich natürlich als Frauenunterstützer und liebevoller Kerl erweist. Sherin hingegen entpuppt sich traditionell als böse Lesbe und scheidet damit erst recht als Liebesobjekt aus.

© Ingeborg Boxhammer (Bonn 2005)
Anke Sauerbrey (Translation, Bonn 2005)

Suggested citation:
Boxhammer, Ingeborg: Lesbian Traces in Film - The new Millennium [online]. Bonn 2005 Available from: Online-Projekt Lesbengeschichte. Boxhammer, Ingeborg/Leidinger, Christiane. URL <https://www.lesbengeschichte.org/Englisch/film_die_2000_e.html> [cited DATE].

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[1] At another broadcast of “Zwei Frauen, ein Mann und ein Baby” in summer 2003 RTL reached 13,9% of their expected audience (= 15 – 49 year olds). Compare: https://www.ipm.ch/downloads/monatsber/Monatsbericht_TV_Juli03.pdf.
[2] Go to the press release on https://www.movierelations.de/presse/kafiristan.pdf, 2005.
[3] For a closer look on life and work of Annemarie Schwarzenbach go to the documentary “Annemarie Schwarzenbach – Schweizerin und Rebellin 1908 – 1942”. Switzerland 2001. D: Carole Bonstein.
[4] Compare the criticism by Detlef Kühn in epd film 12/2002, p. 48.
[5] Compare: Hans Krah, Sexualität, Homosexualität, Geschlechterrollen. Mediale Konstruktionen und Strategien des Umgangs mit Homosexualität in Film und Fernsehen. In: FORUM Homosexualität und Literatur 29, 1997, pp. 5-46.
[6] “Berlin, Berlin”. Serial ARD. First relay (26 episodes) first broadcast in March/April 2002.
[7] Source: https://www.serienjunkies.de/news/853.html, 2004