Lesbian Traces in Film

The End of an Era and a new Beginning? – The Nineties

SalmonberriesUnter KollegenYour Heart is all MineWill Mausi be Coming Out?Loose EndsDie KonkurrentinEverything will be fineDas HochzeitsgeschenkAimée and Jaguar

In 1991 Percy Adlon produced “Salmonberries” and cast the lesbian folk icon k.d. lang as the taciturn main character Kotzebue. But her attempt to come closer to a austere German sticks fast right from the start and lets the film turn into a torture to the audience. Kotzebue is on a quest to find her true identity. A librarian helps her but refuses all intimacy that even the film itself cannot handle. Although Kotzebue joins Roswita on her trip in a process of coming to terms with her past to Germany they stay strangers to each other.

At the same time Claus-Michael Rohne shot his final film for the School for Television and Film in Munich: "Unter Kollegen ".1 The lesbian Ulrike Folkerts, who only a few years later was outed by the "Stern",2 here she acts out the more or less apparent part of a lesbian relationship. At a company outing her lover flirts with anyone that is still alive. The lesbian relationship – not explicitly mentioned – not at last becomes obvious when this Daniela shortly after that starts an affair with the wife of the new superior.

During the nineties there is a breakthrough for women’s film. Women get more major roles, they stand not for anything any more and love, who they want. That can also be seen in lesbian relevant productions. "Mein ist dein ganzes Herz [Your Heart is all mine]” (1992, Elke Götz) slyly satirise the life of a conservative bookkeeper, that lives together with her possessive mother. When Hilde falls for the really cool butcher, who also brings her into “the scene”, she has to decide between her mother and her new love.

Great attention was caused by "Kommt Mausi raus? [Will Mausi Be Coming Out?]" in 1994 by Angelina Maccarone and Alexander Scherer. This entertaining coming out story without frills of a young and shy student was broadcast at prime time by the Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen,3 right after the news and gathered many lesbians in front of their televisions. Coming right out of the province to Hamburg she falls for the first woman gets to know in the sub and with whom she spends a night. But Jo does not want a relationship with her. When Mausi had hardly come over this she happily falls in love with Yumiko. And very soon Mausi discovers that she wants to tell her mother about her being a lesbian. But – how to do it? After a couple of attempts she tells her mother her “secret” but has to discover, that her mother is not impressed. Inge Meysel [a well known German TV-actress of the fifties and sixties] was also like this, she comments on Mausi's confession and easily turns back to her local gossip, that seems to be much more interesting to her. Through this Mausi grows up to face her fears and thus realises that they were groundless.

During the following years some lesbian film allusions come and go but were drowned by the heterosexual mainstream. In Sandra Nettelbeck’s portrait of a group of young people, whose lives seem to be “Unbeständig und kühl [Loose Ends]” (1996) occurs a young lesbian that with her fear of commitment and alcoholism destroys any serious relationship. In a drunken state she crashes her car and dies because of her injuries. Her lover (Sandra Nettelbeck herself) can be with her in hospital when she dies. The mentioned films of the nineties were mostly shown on television and – with a few exceptions on festivals – were basically closed to a cinema audience and its critics.4

For funding reasons the oncoming lesbians had to settle for the homely screen. Dagmar Hirtz, up to this point rather known as a film editor, with the coming out drama "Die Konkurrentin" (1997) set another milestone in the history of German lesbian film. The experienced Katharina works as a management consultant as is assisted by the young and dynamic Maren, who at first seems to be a competitor threatens to take her job. But instead they soon work together and even come closer in their private life. First this production revived old internal clichés of the seventies / eighties lesbian movement, that said that lesbians were better and would act with “more solidarity” than other people and secondly its message did leave no doubt that a lesbian relationship was at least equal if not better than a heterosexual.

In the same year Angelina Maccarone, with making Will Mausi Be Coming Out?” she still had a man as a director in her team, could make “Alles wird gut” [Everything Will Be Fine] (1997), her first own television film production. A young Afro-German tries to win back her ex-lover and on her way falls in love with another Afro-German woman, that “unfortunately” (still) is a heterosexual. But certainly they will love each other in the end. Compared with other German films Maccarone worked refreshingly relaxed, decorated the apartment of the heterosexual woman with a couple of sex toys and ironically displayed their reservation through an absurd heterosexual relationship structure. Maccarone, in her political, anti-racist film relies on classic film language and thus filled old and habitual view with new and refreshing contents.5

At the same time Bernd Böhlich produced "Das Hochzeitsgeschenk" (1997) after a book by Claudia Pütz, who worked together with Katharina Eckart on the script. Although the film had a star cast (for example Gudrun Landgrebe being the mother of the lesbian) it looses through an inhibited story of a young and successful woman, who does not dare to tell her bigoted family of her being a lesbian and therefore denies and humbles her girlfriend. The dialogues are bulky, the story is a bit stale – altogether a disappointing film.

With Max Färberböck’s "Aimée & Jaguar" (1998) a film reached the cinemas in 19996, that not only told an authentic lesbian love story but also one, that happened during the Nazi’s and with a German star cast. The film bases on the book with the same title by Erica Fischer, who not only used the remaining (love) letters between the Jewish Resistance fighter Felice Schragenheim and ‘Arian’ wearer of the ‘mother’ cross’ Lilly Wust7 but also the memories of the Lilly Wust herself.8 Erica Fischer’s depiction – a naive wearer of the ‘mother’s cross’ falls in love with a Jewish Resistance fighter, hides her for some time, but cannot save her from the Nazi’s and glorifies their short relationship as a single and great tragically ending love – caused intense criticism with contemporary witnesses. Schragenheim had been dependent on Wust, they said, not deep love but fear of being discovered had been the reason for this relationship. In addition, one contemporary witness suspects, Wust could have betrayed Schragenheim to the Nazi’s. Her jealousy and her attempt to visit her in Theresienstadt could even have meant Schragenheim’s death penalty.9 In a second edition from 1998 Fischer changed a few episodes but kept the basic meaning of this touching love story.10 Watching the film you can only suspect all these controversies if you knew all the different editions of the book: In the final sequence the aged Lilly Wust meets her also aged former house maid, that had been called up for special services by the authorities to do this job, in the park. Wust remembers the reaction of her former maid on her revelation, that she had visited Schragenheim in Theresienstadt: “Do you know, what you’ve done, Lilly?” Ilse asks shakenly. But Lilly does not understand her and instead she wants to know if Ilse has been in bed with Felice once more. Fate had betrayed her, the old woman Wust summarises bitterly. But Ilse would not let her get away with it. First it had been Hitler, now fate, with her always something big was to blame. No, it was she herself, who had betrayed her. Now Lilly is embarrassed.

Juliane Köhler, the actress playing Lilly Wust, as well as Maria Schrader, acting Felice Schragenheim, were honoured with the Filmband in gold for their performance – in German film history such an honour had not been given to a film with an obvious lesbian content since “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”.

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

Suggested citation:
Boxhammer, Ingeborg: Lesbian Traces in Film - The End of an Era and a new Beginning? – The Nineties [online]. Bonn 2005 Available from: Online-Projekt Lesbengeschichte. Boxhammer, Ingeborg/Leidinger, Christiane. URL <https://www.lesbengeschichte.org/Englisch/film_die_90_e.html> [cited DATE].

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[1] As a co-production with the NDR broadcasted there on April 14th 1991. Source: www.filmportal.de, 2005.
[2] According to the Bund lesbischer und schwuler JournalistInnen (BLSJ) Folkerts had already in 1998 admitted to her lesbianism; the “Stern” did mention that ahead of this with her agreement: https://www.blsj.de/aktionen/outen.htm, 2005.
[3] Date of first broadcast on June 7th 1995 at 8.15 p.m. in ARD.
[4] With this I understand, that a cinema film is more highly regarded than a television production. A film seen at the cinema is more respected that a film that was “only” shown on television.
[5] Therefore go to Jan Hans, Angelmac. Die Regisseurin Angelina Maccarone, in: Michael Töteberg (Ed.), Szenenwechsel. Momentaufnahmen des jungen deutschen Films. Reinbek near Hamburg 1999, pp. 145-151, p. 146.
[6] Premiere at Berlinale 1999.
[7] After her speech on the occasion of awarding the Bundesverdienstkreuz to Lilly Wust many journalists tried to get her story. In the nineties you could almost speak of a media hype: In Germany in 1994 the WDR produced a documentary on Wust “Das kurze Glück zum langen Traum”, D: Sabine Stadtmüller. Under the heading “Wenn Frauen Frauen lieben” Alfred Biolek invited Lilly Wust to join Maren Kroymann in 1994. In Britain Catrine Clay produced the documentary “Love Story. Berlin 1942” in 1997.
[8] Erica Fischer, Aimée & Jaguar. Eine Liebesgeschichte, Berlin 1943. Cologne 1994.
[9] Compare Esther Dischereit, Die Geschichte hinter der Geschichte von Aimée und Jaguar: Zwischen Abhängigkeit, Prostitution und Widerstand, on www.hagalil.com/archiv/99/10/jaguar.htm, 2005, or also Katharina Sperber, Eine andere Vision: Schmerzhafte Erinnerungen einer Überlebenden, at www.berlin-judentum.de/frauen/predski.htm, 2005, first printed in Frankfurter Rundschau on 2003-01-07.
[10] At the same place.