Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 18, 2018

Lou Andreas-Salome – The Audacity To Be Free

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

This Friday, an extraordinary film titled “Lou Andreas-Salome – The Audacity To Be Free” opens at the Village East Cinema in NYC (schedule info here). I had the good fortune to see the film at the Socially Relevant Film Festival last month and posted a review of the film on CounterPunch that is reproduced below. I also took part in a Q&A with the director that helped me understand the labor of love that went into it. Cordula Kablitz-Post, the 54 year old director, first came across a biography of Lou Andreas-Salome 37 years ago and was struck by the fierce independence of a woman who defied patriarchy in all its manifestations. She began research on the film 8 years ago and her ability to recreate the social world of young bohemian philosophers like Frederich Nietzsche and his friend Paul Rée is a feat in of itself. But, as I pointed out to her in the Q&A, she also had the ability to breathe life into these characters and make their struggles as palpably real as if they were 1960s cultural rebels rather than obscure historical figures. The film succeeds in the same way that “The Young Karl Marx” succeeds by making post-Hegelian revolutionaries come alive. If I were to pick only two narrative films to see this year, it would be those two.


From CounterPunch:

The photo at the top of the article depicts in rather sadomasochistic terms Lou Andreas Salomé applying the whip to Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche. This photo, whose taking is a key scene in the film, is provocative enough on its own terms to deserve pride of place in a photography museum. However, the story behind the photo deserves a full recounting, which is the purpose to a large part of Cordula Kablitz-Post’s 2016 film, finally viewable in New York—and hopefully across the USA before very long.

Like Alexandra Kollontai and Victoria Woodhull, Lou Salomé was a transformative feminist figure who challenged oppressive patriarchal norms. Although she was not a revolutionary, her boldness and independence arguably exceeded that of any woman from her time. Living between 1861 and 1937, her path crossed with some of the most important men of her generation. Besides Nietzsche and Rilke, she was one of the first women ever to practice Freudian psychoanalysis. If anything, her connections to Freud (possibly sexual as well as professional), Nietzsche and Rilke indicate a breadth of learning that is unrivalled. In every sense of the word, she was a renaissance woman equally conversant in philosophy, literature and psychology.

If this was all there was to Lou Salomé, there still might have not been a basis for a biopic. What makes Cordula Kablitz-Post’s film work so well is that it fully captures the dramatic story of a unique woman who as the title indicates had the audacity to be free.

Four different actresses play Lou Salomé at different stages of her life and special credit should be given to the 81-year old Nicole Heesters, who plays her in her final year as the Nazis are closing in on the woman who is under suspicion for practicing the evil arts of Sigmund Freud the Jew.

Born in St. Petersburg to an army general and his wife, she had 5 brothers and was determined at an early age to have the same freedoms as them. We see her climbing a tree with a brother and tumbling down from a lofty branch. When her father rushes out to tend to her, he asks what he can do. Her reply: get me a proper pair of shoes like my brother so I won’t have fall again. It was her spunkiness that persuaded her family to begin calling her Lou rather than Louise, her birth name.

Preoccupied with the deeper questions of existence from an early age, she caused a ruckus in church one Sunday morning when after the priest said that God is everywhere in a sermon, she asked if he was also in hell. Despite her iconoclastic frame of mind, the church sent a priest to provide home schooling in philosophy and religion. All was going well until he tried to force himself on her sexually. Her reaction to him should have been the same reaction that budding actresses had to Harvey Weinstein.

Seeing her so committed to philosophy and religious studies, her parents agreed to send her to Switzerland where women were permitted to attend university unlike backward Russia. It was there that she became immersed in philosophy, including that of post-Hegelians like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

On a trip to Rome with her mother in 1882, she met a young man named Paul Rée who was the son of wealthy, assimilated Prussian Jews. A monthly allowance gave him the freedom to pursue philosophical investigations that overlapped those of Salomé. As is typical of the biopic, her initial meeting with Rée turns immediately to intellectual matters—specifially their mutual admiration for Schopenhauer. Long walks between the two covering philosophical questions did not satisfy Rée who was smitten by Lou Salomé as were most men. When he proposed to her, she replied that marriage was not for her. Raising children within the confines of the household was not her life’s goal. Instead she wanted to pursue her philosophical studies without interference. So dear to his heart was the charismatic young woman that Rée accepted a platonic relationship.

When Rée introduced her to his friend Frederick Nietzsche (played brilliantly by Alexander Scheer, who also played Wilhelm Weitling in “The Young Karl Marx”), she went through the same duck and parry maneuvers she went through with Rée. Except with Nietzsche, who called her the smartest person he ever knew, it became even more stressful since she was far more attracted to him than to his friend. Not only did she have to deny him; she also had to deny herself. Watching the three together will remind you of the love triangles in French new wave films by François Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard. Her ability to keep the two men at bay was the source of the joke depicted in the photograph above.

It was only when she met Rainer Maria Rilke in 1896 that she finally decided to give herself to a man sexually. He was 15 years her junior and deeply worshipful of her. In addition to her command of philosophy, she had also become a famous novelist writing under the name Henry Lou. Her success persuaded her publisher to finally reveal that it was a woman who had become a best-seller.

Rilke is played by Julius Feldmeier who fully conveys the puppy dog affection the young and as yet unrecognized poet had for the older woman. In one discussion between the two, he complains that his birth name René was chosen by his mother because it was sexually ambiguous. (She also dressed him in girl’s clothing when young, thus being the complement to her tom-boy youth.) It was Lou Salomé who convinced him to change it to Rainer even though she says at one point that it was his feminine qualities that made him irresistible to her. Rilke pays tribute to her in “To Lou Andreas-Salome”. The closing stanzas:

For I don’t think back; all that I am
stirs me because of you. I don’t invent you
at sadly cooled-off places from which
you’ve gone away; even your not being there
is warm with you and more real and more
than a privation. Longing leads out too often
into vagueness. Why should I cast myself, when,
for all I know, your influence falls on me,
gently, like moonlight on a window seat.

1 Comment »

  1. Almost makes me wish I didn’t hate Nietzsche so much.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 19, 2018 @ 6:55 pm


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