Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis, also known as the Fates, reached down from the heavens and wrenched their mighty crowbar into the thing called inequality between the sexes and wedged the two one step closer to parity, in whatever direction that may lie, when they brought us Lou Andreas-Salomé (1861 – 1937). She was the first female psychoanalyst and a protofeminist. Nicknamed Lou by a pastor who mentored her, she was and has remained a controversial historical figure. She was a revolutionary philosopher and author, even considered so by her legendary male peers, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.
In the biopic film titled Lou Andreas-Salomé, The Audacity To Be Free, German director-writer Cordula Kablitz-Post portrays Lou as a femme fatale, perhaps because her contemporary critics felt she was socially unacceptable. To those at the time, this figure seemed to have stepped out of Pandora’s Box. One would think she would be beauty exotic to the women’s movement at that time because she chose to live unconventionally. She did not want to marry or have children. She wanted to study, enrich her mind and make her own decisions. She rejected the arbitrary constraints society put on women. But she was viewed as harmful to the tiny advances women were making for posterity. Truly Lou was the Baroque Aida with real elephants and camels brought to their doorstep rejected for being the lead role.
This biopic is a dramatic story of a woman who when pushed by the confines of an unfair system pushes back, and bites. The story is told through four different actresses in four different stages of Lou’s life. The principle role is played by adult Lou (Katharina Lorenz), followed by mature Lou (Nicole Heesters), teenage Lou (Liv Lisa Fries), and child Lou (Helena Pieske).
Kablitz-Post made very strong casting choices in all the ladies who portrayed Lou in the four different life stages.
When asked how she was able to come across such capable female talent, most especially the very talented 81-year old Heesters, Kablitz-Post said in an interview, “Thank you! It makes me happy to hear that, because Nicole is just great. It was my casting agent's idea. Her name is Anja Dihrberg, and she did a fantastic job. Usually Nicole does not have many chances to play interesting characters in German TV. The reason is that still especially for women in her age there are hardly no interesting characters written in screenplays. Mostly she has to play one-dimensional supporting characters who have no life of her own, although she is very experienced and a great actress in theater and TV. Nicole is strong, intelligent, funny, glamorous and sexy - something what you normally do not expect from a 81 year old woman.”
Liv Lisa Fries played a very convincing teenage Lou. The mirror scene where she looks at herself in the mirror and remembers what her father said to her, the look of anguish in her eyes was very compelling, emotional and drew the audience into her character at that stage in her life. This is a young actress we should keep an eye on as her skill level is very advanced for her age.
Katharina Lorenz played a very emotional performance as adult Lou. She was ferocious, independent and just the right amount of feminist to be plausible. She even had the right look to be a compelling look alike to the real life Lou. The through line of each of these roles one to the next is part of why these women did a good job of telling the entire life story of Lou. They each remained in character but each of them kept to the same character of the real life Lou. This is in part due to the fabulous job of the director.
Kablitz-Post directed some very unique shots in the film. She was not in charge of a multi-million dollar franchise, but she directed shots that were very cinematically beautiful nonetheless.
“Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention,” said Kablitz-Post. “The problem was to show the original historical locations that we wanted to have in the film, because Lou was traveling a lot through St. Petersburg, Rome, Zurich, Vienna and Berlin. My Austrian set designer Nikolai Ritter, and the VFX head of the German company Mackevision Juri Stannosek and me, developed a unique idea to establish the historic outside shots of these cities, surprisingly poetic and most authentic, in such a way that the production value appeared much higher than the budget allowed. We used historical postcards of the cities and let our Lou actresses walk through these postcards. The effect is that everything else and everybody on the postcard is of course steady and motionless whereas the only one moving and living is Lou. Technically our actress was shot before green where our camera took the same position as the historical camera that shot the postcard. The effect is overwhelming, because it was never done before this way. It adds a poetical and deep meaning, so that the spectator feels and sees how I perceive Lou, that she is a very modern woman feeling like an alien in her own time. I see her as if she was the only really ‘living’ person, whereas she must have felt as everybody else is stuck in conventions.”
As far as the historical photos, the director and her team went to great lengths to find the many photos in the film.
“My art director Mike Schäfer did excessive research in all sorts of national archives and bookstores, and I decided in terms of getting the most interesting images of Rome, Zürich, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Vienna in the original time of 1867 until 1900,” said the director.
The film has had several titles in its short life so far. When asked why this would be, the director gave a compelling answer.
“There is different knowledge about Lou Andreas-Salomé' s work and life story in every country, so we tried to give an impression of the film already with the title according to the different countries,” said Kablitz-Post. “The first international premiere was during the Film Festival of Shanghai in 2016. There, the english title In Love with Lou was inspired by Wong Kar-Wei' s film In the Mood for Love which I admire a lot. I did not know how much the Chinese audience could be interested in a film about German intellectuals. I was happy to see that the title worked in China, and the film was always sold out, and in the end being sold to be licensed in China. In France, we decided, as in Germany, to use Lou’s full name only as a title, because there she was already known by her full name, especially in France. In Brazil, we trusted the distribution company when they decided to use only LOU as a title which also worked out great. The film is still running in Brazilian cinemas since January. And here in the U.S. it was the idea of our distribution company Cinema Libre to add ‘The audacity to be free’ in the title. This is like a log line for me, and I liked the idea very much immediately.”
Kablitz-Post states she came upon Lou’s story by accident. She found her biography at the city library when she was just 17 and has been intrigued ever since. A great ostrich of an opportunity nested itself in her lap at a tender age, yet Kablitz-Post didn’t know how big the day was.
“She was something of a pioneer of emancipation,” said Kablitz-Post.
History was trudging along making small steps for the women’s feminist hive. Then fwap! With apparent forethought, the feminist icon jumps out of the cake. During a time when the world didn't believe anyone would read what a woman had to say, Lou became a published novelist, poet and essayist. She at first had to publish under a pen name. Bilk! All the bustle causes observers to notice. At a party it became known she published the work. She wanted a life free from the patriarchal bonds placed on her gender. She disagreed with spurring genius and passion in others. She found common ground on these points in Nietzsche, Freud, Paul Rée and her lover, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Those interested in symbolism could and should attach Aida symbolism to Lou and her male encounters. She was continually caught up with the idea of should she continue her role as a leader for women and intellectual pursuits, or should she indulge in physical pleasures? As her intellectual pursuits build to intoxication, she finds the Pony Express rider arrives with a bulletin announcing a setback to her way of thinking. Wham! She falls in love with Rilke.
According to Anais Nin (1903 - 1977), a woman who wrote explicitly about sex from a female point of view, Lou “may have seemed inhuman to some men because she announced the end of [her] relationships, which the man usually does. ... She said to Rilke, 'Now the passion is over, so the relationship is over', which was very unusual at that time."
She was the only daughter of six children. As a teenager, she persuaded a Dutch preacher 25 years older than her to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions and French and German literature. She studied at the University of Zurich. Two years later she met Rée, where they engaged in something of an intellectual battle at a party. This sparked each of their interests in the other. He asked her to marry him, and she refused, stating she would never be free if she married anyone. Thus began a long and intimate friendship between the two. Lou held to the belief that giving in to love or lust would disconnect her for her intellectual freedom and academic achievements. Lou met Nietzsche through her friendship with Rée. And thus begins the love triangle in the film. The Fates were going to let us have our protofeminist.
Protofeminism predates the feminist movement. Women like Lou and Charlotte Brontë, and other such authors, were challenging and critiquing the treatment of women in the US and British society. Their literature pre-sage the 20th century monumental changes like the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 and the Representation of the People Act in 1928 in Britain. A protofeminist is an early author, thinker or leader who despite cultural norms to the contrary sought equality for women on every level. It is because of women like Lou and Brontë that modern women can say we are feminists. Not that we can long lounge on our laurels today. Everybody can ponder the limp corkscrew and broken balloons of our premature festivities until Monday morning when Cimmerian realism again wags its spindly finger under our noses mocking our lack of this and that.
The Vesuvian eruption of feminism that followed Lou could have never taken place without her and her kind. What Lou best did for her contemporaries was interpret and push the boundaries for women’s rights. She was a lens with which Nietzsche and Freud and other male role models used to interpret the world. No other woman of her time clarified points for these men like Lou. How could they when they lacked basic education and rights to do simple things like own property and speak their minds?
As Hitler’s Nazi party reared its ugly head in Nationalist Socialist Germany through the 1930s, Lou lived alone with her housekeeper, Mariechen. The Fates one again knocked on Lou’s door in the form of Ernst Pfieffer who ultimately penned a biography of her life based on the stories she shared with him. In real life, Lou in the end died of uremia in her sleep. In the film there is a different ending, so no spoilers here.
Lou Andreas-Salome will have three upcoming US screenings:
EXCLUSIVE NYC ENAGEMENT START APRIL 20
VILLAGE EAST CINEMA
181-189 2nd Ave. @ 12th Street.
New York, NY 10003
EXCLUSIVE LOS ANGELES ENGAGEMENT STARTS APRIL 27
LAEMMLE’S ROYAL THEATRE
11523 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets & Showtimes: https://www.laemmle.com/films/43826
EXCLUSIVE ALBUQUERQUE ENGAGEMENT April 27 - May 1
THE GUILD CINEMA
3405 Central Ave. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
Showtimes: Friday April 27 – Tuesday May 1 @ 3:30PM, 8:15PM
Trailer: Lou Andreas-Salomé. The Audacity To Be Free