A "genius of inspiration" heads for the screen

Katharina Lorenz as Lou Andreas-Salome and Julius Feldmeier as Rilke

Was Lou Andreas-Salome a writer or a muse, a feminist or a femme fatale? Perhaps Julia Vickers, one of her biographers, evokes her elusive spirit best when she calls Lou "a genius of inspiration."

Moviegoers will see the extraordinary extent of her motivating genius in a new film by Cordula Kablitz-Post, Lou Andreas-Salome. (I reviewed the film for World Literature Today.) Lou--the name she preferred to be addressed by--not only guided and aided the creative process; she had an uncanny instinct for where her help would do the most good.

Nietzsche said "only after knowing her was I ripe for my Zarathustra." Decades later Freud, who sometimes referred patients to Salome, told her, "I strike up a melody, usually a very simple one; you supply the higher octaves to it. I separate one thing from another; you combine what was separated into a higher unity." Her role in Rilke's life was even greater, continuing for more than two decades.

Kablitz-Post's film, which was released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland last June and will open in French theaters in late May 2017, traces the whole course of Lou's life from her childhood among the German colony in St. Petersburg to her final years in Goettingen, Germany. In the restlessly creative years before the First World War, she bridged the worlds of philosophy, psychology and literature, making contributions to each one.

Her ability to guide and inspire came from an extraordinary intelligence and an unshakable sense of her own autonomy, which freed her to encounter others--whoever they were--on an equal footing. When she was just 21, she set down how she meant to live:
What I shall quite certainly do is make my own life according to myself, whatever may come of it. In this I have no principle to represent, but something much more wonderful--something that is inside oneself and is hot with sheer life, and rejoices and wants to get out.
The film recreates Bohemian life in the Berlin of the 1880s

Lighting the way to the Duino Elegies

Lou's most celebrated relationship was with Rainer Maria Rilke. When they met in May 1897, she was a 36-year-old author working on her fifth novel and married to philologist Friedrich Carl Andreas. Rilke, at 21, was an art history student visiting Munich from Prague.

Their friendship quickly became a love affair, although Lou had never had a sexual relationship before. (Believing that sex placed women in a subordinate role, she had married Andreas on the condition the marriage not be consummated.)

The difference in their ages may have seemed natural to her: she and Andreas were 15 years apart, her own parents 16. When Lou and Rilke met, he had published three poetry collections, but those poems were rather cautious and conventional. Now, he wrote Lou, he would do better:
Songs of longing! . . . But they will be different from how they used to be, these songs. For I have turned and found longing at my side, and I have looked into her eyes, and now she leads me with a steady hand.
Lou and Rilke were lovers for three years and stayed close until his death in 1926: she played a crucial role in his development as a writer. Rilke was prone to many doubts and fears, and it is hard to imagine how he could have written the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus without Lou's guidance and support.


Lou Andreas-Salome in 1897, the year she met Rilke

A leading role shared three ways

Kablitz-Post has chosen three actresses to portray Lou in the three stages of her life. In the central portion of the film, Katharina Lorenz, who's had leading roles in plays by Shakespeare, Schiller and Albee, plays Lou as a young woman.

Liv Lisa Fries, who won the Bavarian Film Award for Best Young Actress last year, has the role of Lou as a teenager. Nicole Heester, a veteran of stage and screen, plays the writer in her final years. The cast includes Julius Feldmeier as Rilke, Alexander Scheer as Nietzsche and Harald Schrott at Freud. (See the link below for photos of the principal cast.)

Some film biographies rely on an existing interpretation of their subject. Milos Forman's Amadeus, for example, is adapted from the play by Peter Schaffer. Kablitz-Post has based her film on her own extensive research, which began many years ago.

"When I was 17," the director told me, "I read the first biography of Lou Andreas-Salome, written by H.F. Peters, and it fascinated me. She was one of those first emancipated women who lived 100 years ahead of her time.

"She never accepted a 'no' from family or society regarding her plans for her freedom and choice of education. She was one of the first women who studied in Zurich in 1881--the first European university that accepted women. For me, she has always been a role model."


Liv Lisa Fries, who plays Lou Andreas-Salome as a teenager, and director Cordula Kablitz-Post on location in Lower Saxony (Photo: Janine Kluge)

Writing fresh dialogue for familiar voices 

Kablitz-Post wrote the film's script in collaboration with Susanne Hertel. One of their challenges was writing dialogue for historical figures who already have strong voices in print. Another was adjusting their 19th-century diction so that today's audiences could understand them.

"Lou's German is very old-fashioned and complicated," Hertel explained. "We had to 'translate' her quotes into a more modern--of course, not too-modern--German."

In December of the year Rilke met Lou, he published a new book of poems, entitled Advent.  This one ("Weisst du, ich will mich schleichen") is a slender poem, but the way it links autonomy with intimacy sums up what that momentous year had meant to both of them:

You know I'd like to slip
from the loudly buzzing room
when the first pale stars,
high above the darkened oaks,
catch fire.

I want to make my way
through paths that few can find
in the hushed evening meadows
--and with no dream but this:
you're there too.


On location in Wrisbergholzer (L to R): the film's director, Cordula Kablitz-Post; camera operator Matthias Schellenberg; Matthias Lier (Ernst Pfeiffer) and Nicole Heesters (Lou) (Photo: Meyfarth) 


Lou's letter translated by Angela Livingston, from Salome: Her Life and Work (Gordon Fraser, 1984), p. 36. Rilke's letter translated by Edward Snow and Michael Winkler, from Rilke and Andreas-Salome: A Love Story in Letters (W.W. Norton, 2008), p. 7. Rilke's poem translated by Frank Beck.

11 comments:

  1. The director has something of the same Eros as Salome; it is lovely to see the astonishing creative of one woman so many generations later spark and feed the same in another. Will this film be available in the US, through Netflix, with English subtitles? It's one I do not want to miss!

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  2. "How I Love You, Riddle of Life" is scheduled for release in Europe in early 2016, and I think the chances of a North American release are excellent. I'll post updates about the film, including reviews, as I get them.

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    1. I wanna see this movie! I'm from Brazil and I'm interested in watching it. Could you please send me information or send me something? Thanks a lot! My mail address is michellya.ribeiro@gmail.com

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    2. Here's the trailer for the film, which was just released today:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P37Ic707HqY

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  3. WELL DONE!
    I'm a scholar of literature and also a life-long fan of Lou's (I even named my daughter after her). I have the beginnings of a film script in my drawer that was begun in 2006 but never finished; so I'm glad others were more persistent. Too few people know Lou still! Hope this film will be good, and thus able to change that. :-) Best of luck! (Here's a short article on Lou I wrote a couple of years ago: http://saytheword.de/lou/).

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    1. Thanks for your message. Here's the trailer for the film, which was just released today:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P37Ic707HqY

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  4. It will be available on BluRay/DVD on February 28. However, this initial release is in the Region 2 PAL format. You can watch it with a multisystem player or on a laptop, if you set the DVD player for Region 2:
    https://www.osiander.de/webdb/index.cfm?osiaction=details&id=KNO2016122100595&source=UWK#

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    1. I ordered the DVD but I need English subtitles. Where can I download them?

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    2. The subtitles are not available on any legitimate site right now, but the film will be released in the US later this year by Cinema Libre. The best place to watch for further news is the film's Facebook page:
      https://www.facebook.com/LOUANDREASSALOMEFILM/

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  5. The film will open in France on April 26. Details are available from BodegaFilms.com:
    http://www.bodegafilms.com/film/lou-andreas-salome/

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