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by Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck

grade: 7.5

The Ancestress, by Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck, is a very imperfect film, but nevertheless made with such grace and such a clear gaze that it rightfully ranks as a real gem. An important heritage of Austrian and world filmography.


The Ancestress (original title: Die Ahnfrau), a true jewel of Austrian cinema made a hundred years ago – way back in 1919 – by film pioneers Louise Kolm-Fleck and her husband Jakob Fleck, often makes us smile, despite being inspired by a dramatic play. The film, parts of which have unfortunately been lost forever, has undergone a major restoration at the São Paulo Film Archive in Brazil and has been re-released to the public on the occasion of the Diagonale 2019, within the Weiblichkeiten section dedicated to women.

Because in fact The Ancestress (as the title itself suggests), based on the play of the same name by Franz Grillparzer, tells an all-female story: the story of a noblewoman (played by Liane Haid) who, after being killed by her lover, must wander as a ghost in the rooms of her old house, until the extinction of the female gender in her family. The only one left alive is the young Berta (who looks exactly like the deceased), who falls madly in love with a mysterious young man, the charming Jaromir (Max Neufeld).

This drama is a remake of a 1910 film of the same name, directed by Jakob Fleck himself. A story based mainly on misunderstandings and which, although with predictable twists, as already stated, occasionally makes the spectator smile. Although the cinema had been invented for almost twenty-five years, since Austria waited a few years to “get going” in this field, from a directorial point of view there are many ingenuities, alongside, however, rather unusual – but extremely interesting – gimmicks for the time, such as, for example, the clever idea of inserting a flashback (re-editing scenes already seen) during the film.

Beyond any “beginner’s error”, beyond a film language that has yet to be properly developed, it must be said that, not only for this first film, but also for every other feature film to come, Louise Fleck’s directing style has always maintained a rather slow narrative pace, with a sometimes excessively static camera. This is also the case with The Ancestress, where, with a constantly fixed camera and a strong theatrical imprint, we can also count many innocent “oversights”, such as the presumed change of location which, in reality, is filmed in the same room, and the moment when the young Jaromir, in order to escape from a group of men intent on hunting him down, hides behind a boulder situated right next to these men.

These are errors that imply a direct inspiration from the theatre itself, together with the cast’s performance, with gestures that are so exaggerated that they almost remind us of the bandits and victims of Edwin Stanton Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903) and make us smile heartily, despite the dramatic nature of the moments. The same applies to the facial expressions and the actors’ sophisticated games of glances. Exaggerated, yes, but, in fact, so precise as to reveal the great mastery of all the actors (let’s not forget that Liane Haid, Max Neufeld, as well as Karl Ehmann, in the role of Berta’s father, were among the most important names of the time).

The Ancestress, then, is an imperfect work but, despite everything, made with such grace and such a clear gaze that it rightfully ranks as a real gem. An important heritage of Austrian and world filmography. It’s just a pity that the directors – Louise Kolm-Fleck and her husband Jakob Fleck – are, despite everything, still too little known, not to say almost forgotten. Even in Austria.

Original title: Die Ahnfrau
Directed by: Louise Kolm-Fleck, Jakob Fleck
Country/year: Austria / 1919
Running time: 70’
Genre: drama
Cast: Karl Ehmann, Liane Haid, Max Neufeld, Josef Recht, Eduard Sekler, Eugen Neufeld
Screenplay: Louise Kolm-Fleck, Jakob Fleck
Produced by: Wiener Kunstfilm

Info: the page of The Ancestress on the website of the Diagonale