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Lou Andreas-Salomé: The Audacity to Be Free (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Lou Andreas-Salomé: The Audacity to be Free


Starring Katharina Lorenz, Nicole Heesters, Liv Lisa Fries, Katharina Schüttler, Alexander Scheer, Philipp Hauß, Julius Feldmeier, Matthias Lier, Petra Morzé, Merab Ninidze, Harald Schrott, Daniel Sträßer, Peter Simonischek, Marcel Hensema, Ruth Reinecke, Katrin Hansmeier, Aaron Karl and Birte Carolin Sebastian.

Screenplay by Cordula Kablitz-Post and Susanne Hertel.

Directed by Cordula Kablitz-Post.

Distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. 119 minutes. Not Rated.

Though her name is not very well known in the US, Lou Andreas-Salomé was an author and one of the pioneers of psychoanalysis, a brilliant and unconventional woman (particularly for her time) who counted amongst her friends, colleagues (and often aspiring lovers) such names as Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Rée and Rainer Maria Rilke.

As you may guess from the film’s slightly stilted subtitle, this movie takes an eccentric force of nature and tries to fit her offbeat story into a straight biographical box. Her life was interesting enough that it still works quite well, but one can only wonder what this film would be like if it had more fully embraced the wild life force of its heroine.

Lou Andreas-Salomé was far ahead of her time. She was a feminist before there was such a thing as a feminist. She rejected the belief that a woman was incomplete without a man. She placed work above love. In fact, she refused all romantic… or even erotic… relationships, although she enjoyed many friendships with men. (Well, okay, she did have a few sexual relationships, but she was unfortunately in a comfortable, passionless marriage at the same time.)

She placed philosophy above religion. She was willing to entertain unusual, or even blasphemous beliefs. She said, “Good manners don’t help; they have a tendency to get in the way.” She felt the greatest goal in life was intellectual perfection. She was not trying to make sociological or political points with her life, she just recognized that she was as smart and able as the men around her and refused to be denied or cowed by staid normality.

We meet Andreas-Salomé as an elderly woman in the film. She has just retired circa World War I – against her will, psychoanalysis is suddenly considered “too Jewish” a pursuit. She is in ill health, pretty much a shut-in in her own large home, cared for by an overprotective housekeeper and nurse. One day a German man comes to her, looking for help with insomnia and writer’s block. She agrees to help him if he helps her to write her memoirs.

He comes to visit her daily, and she tells him stories from her entire life. The stories range from being a small girl from a well-off family in Russia who naturally rebelled against societal norms to showing her as a female student at a time when that was a rarity, throughout her career and her position as the intellectual muse of some of the brilliant men listed above.

Interestingly, for a woman who put her work firmly before her relationships, The Audacity to Be Free spends a lot of time on the men who attempt, mostly unsuccessfully, to tame her and make her a typical wife or lover, and her tendency to push back when men became too clingy. She does say, with clear self-evaluation, “I made all the men who loved me unhappy.”

By comparison, the movie spends very little time on her writing, or her work in psychoanalysis. Granted, those things are perhaps less dramatic than the relationships, but they were of much greater importance to her.

Lou Andreas-Salomé does a fine job of reintroducing the world to a fascinating character who has been mostly forgotten by history. Could it have been an even better film had the makers more fully embraced her work and her free spirit? Perhaps. Still, it is a fine portrait of a woman who refused to fit into societal norms.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: April 20, 2018.

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