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by Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck
In Crucified Girl , Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck staged the personal tragedy of a young woman in a sensitive and completely subjective way, so that they could empathise with what was being portrayed, but also maintain the right detachment and rationality in portraying such a dramatic situation that only a few people at the time could really understand. At the Viennale 2019.
Alone against the world
The film pioneer Louise Kolm-Fleck – to whom a retrospective by the Filmarchiv Austria has been dedicated as part of the Viennale 2019 – has always been very open-minded towards new developments and hot topics of the time. And if, in fact, she had already made a name for herself in Austria as one of the most important film pioneers within her own country (also founding numerous production companies), she had the same success in Germany, where she moved in the 1920s together with her second husband Jakob Fleck. The film Crucified Girl, therefore, dates back to this second period of her career and, to be precise, to 1929, following a contract with Hegewald Film and before the two film directors had to deal with the rise of National Socialism and all its consequences.
Yet, in 1929, it was still possible to have a voice and even to venture down hitherto ‘uncomfortable’ paths, complete with harsh criticism of the society of the time. In Crucified Girl, for instance, Louise Kolm-Fleck and her husband Jakob dealt with the issue of sexual violence in an extremely brutal, but also, at the same time, sensitive and, in its own way, poetic way. Something, this subject, which was very hot at the time, but which, in any case, received much acclaim from the audience and the critics.
The story staged, then, is that of the young student Mary (played by the star of the time, Evelyn Holt), who, freshly engaged to a fellow student, lives with her father and stepmother and spends her days carefree, with friends. Yet, things hardly ever go as they should and a young delinquent, who has fallen in love with her, suddenly attacks her one day. What to do, then, when society is unwilling to fully understand such a delicate situation?
In Crucified Girl, then, Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck have staged the personal tragedy of this young woman in a sensitive and completely subjective way, easily managing to switch between different tones depending on the situation, moving from playful moments to highly dramatic and brutal scenes, without being afraid to be daring, to cause the audience heavy emotional shocks.
There are few close-ups of the main characters. Even with regard to young Mary and her drama, we rarely see her in the foreground or very close-up. The Fleck couple’s camera prefers to focus now on the long shots, now on the half-figures, so as to empathise with what is being staged, but also to be able to maintain the right detachment and rationality in portraying such a dramatic situation that only a few could really understand at the time. And it is precisely to society that the two are addressing. To a blind society, still too bigoted and selfish, always ready to judge those who live or have lived through unusual situations. A film, Crucified Girl, which stands, therefore, as a real denunciation. As a rational and scrupulous work, which also boasts a much more mature and less naive direction than previous works by the two (just think, for example, of their The Ancestress, filmed in Austria in 1919).
It is not the only feature film of theirs, Crucified Girl, to stage such disturbing issues for the time. One only has to think, for instance, of films like Doctor Schäfer (1928), in which the story of a doctor who used to perform abortions is portrayed, or The Right to love (1929), in which the theme of sexual impotence is dealt with.
And so it is that Louise Kolm-Fleck and her husband Jakob, having done a lot for early Austrian cinema, proved to be great innovators outside Austria as well. It is sad to learn that, after the end of the Second World War, the two were almost completely forgotten in their homeland. At least until today.
Original title: Mädchen am Kreuz
Directed by: Louise Kolm-Fleck, Jakob Fleck
Country/year: Germany / 1929
Running time: 77’
Genre: drama, romance
Cast: Valerie Boothby, Gertrud de Lalsky, Evelyn Holt, Robert Leffler, Fritz Odemar, Livio Pavanelli, Ernö Verebes, Wolfgang Zilzer
Screenplay: Marie-Louise Droop
Cinematography: Nicolas Farkas
Produced by: Hegewald Film