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DOCTOR SCHÄFER

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by Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck

grade: 7

A drama, Doctor Schäfer, that is not afraid to deal with controversial issues, expressing precise opinions and pointing the finger – as was often the case in the Fleck couple’s feature films – at a bigoted and selfish society, decidedly close-minded towards new perspectives. At the Viennale 2019, as part of the retrospective dedicated to Louise Kolm-Fleck.

A clever doctor

A film director to whom, over the years, too little attention has been paid, Louise Kolm-Fleck. And yet, this important pioneer of Austrian cinema – to whom a retrospective by the Filmarchiv Austria has been dedicated as part of the Viennale 2019 – proved to be particularly far-sighted even when, together with her second husband Jakob Fleck, she expatriated to Germany. Decidedly mature in terms of the directorial approach adopted, the director made important feature films here – all produced by Hegewald Film – often also dealing with rather ‘disturbing’ topics for the time. This is also the case with the feature film Doctor Schäfer, which she made in 1928 together with her husband Jakob Fleck and which is also presented at the Viennale 2019.

If, therefore, Crucified Girl caused quite a stir the following year, Doctor Schäfer did the same. The story staged, then, is that of a brilliant young doctor, who, going against the conventions of the time – and against his own mentor – has always been in favour of abortion. Having fallen in love with his boss’s daughter, however, he will encounter many difficulties in asking for the hand of his beloved.

A drama, Doctor Schäfer, that is not afraid to deal with controversial issues, expressing precise opinions and pointing the finger – as was often the case in the Fleck couple’s feature films – at a bigoted and selfish society, decidedly close-minded towards new perspectives.

Louise Kolm-Fleck and Jakob Fleck, for their part, proved to be particularly at ease in approaching a story featuring now amusing moments – particularly interesting, in this regard, the figure of the protagonist’s cousin, played by an excellent Imre Raday – now highly dramatic scenes, with quite unexpected implications. The setting for the story is the majestic city of Berlin, so apparently up-to-date, yet at the same time still so incredibly closed. And this particular dichotomy also applies to the characterisation of certain figures (see, above all, the girl’s father), which is perfectly understandable and necessary, if situated in a particular historical context in which important changes are taking place.

And yet, if we think of the Fleck couple’s later works, Doctor Schäfer does have some flaws. Above all with regard to the script itself, which has far too weak subplots, combined with a finale that arrives almost suddenly, abruptly, far too hastily, as if the filmmakers had wanted to finish their work without further developments.

And yet, if one has this impression after watching Doctor Schäfer today, one cannot help but consider the fact that this work had some trouble with the censorship of the time, given the controversial issues it dealt with, and unfortunately also underwent numerous cuts. And if we also consider the fact that the copy that has come down to us today – in spite of a careful restoration work by the Filmarchiv Austria – was also rather damaged at the time, we can immediately understand the reason for certain impressions. Made about 20 minutes shorter, overall, then, Doctor Schäfer has never, in fact, had an easy life. And if, on the one hand, it is a pity that it cannot be watched in its entirety, as it was originally conceived by the Fleck couple, on the other hand, it is an excellent opportunity to simply watch it. Better still if on the big screen.

Original title: Frauenarzt Dr. Schäfer
Directed by: Louise Kolm-Fleck, Jakob Fleck
Country/year: Germany / 1928
Running time: 86’
Genre: drama
Cast: Leopold Kramer, Evelyn Holt, Ivan Petrovich, Agnes Petersen, Hans Albers, Imre Raday
Screenplay: Jane Bess
Cinematography: Georg Muschner
Produced by: Hegewald Film

Info: the page of Doctor Schäfer on iMDb; the page of Doctor Schäfer on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria