“Lou Andreas-Salomé, The Audacity to be Free”
A Transformative Feminist
Lou Salomé challenged oppressive patriarchal norms. While not a revolutionary but she was bold and independent and way ahead of her time. Salome lived from 1861 to 1937 and she some of the most important men of her generation. She was one of the first women ever to practice Freudian psychoanalysis. She had connections to Freud (sexual and professional), shook hands with, Nietzsche and Rilke and was a renaissance woman who could chat about philosophy, literature and psychology.
Director Cordula Kablitz-Post’s film brings us the dramatic story of a unique woman who had the audacity to be free. The role of Lou is played by four different actresses play Lou Salomé at different stages of her life yet I must mention one stand-out performance by 81-year old Nicole Heesters, who plays her in her final year as the Nazis are closing in her because she is suspected of practicing the evil arts of a Jew by the name of Sigmund Freud.
Lou was 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 they had. Early on, we see her climbing a tree with a brother and falling and which point her father rushes out to tend to her. When he asked what he could do, Lou told him to get her a proper pair of shoes like my brother. Lou seldom held back on issues she was involved in and was fascinated by knowledge and questions of existence from an early age. Her parents agreed to send her to Switzerland where women were permitted to attend university and it was there that she became immersed in philosophy, including that of post-Hegelians like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
In 1882 she went to Rome with he mother and she met Paul Rée (Phillipp Haus),the son of wealthy, assimilated Prussian Jews. They shared a mutual admiration for Schopenhauer and took long walks between the two covering philosophical questions and Rée was taken by Lou Salomé as were most men. However, when he proposed to her, she told him that marriage was not for her. She wanted to pursue her philosophical studies without interference. Rée accepted a platonic relationship and introduced her to his friend Frederick Nietzsche (Alexander Scheer) and once again Lou had to deal with an offer 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 Ree.
Not only did she have to deny him; she had to deny herself as well. 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 worshiped her. Lou became 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 (Julius Feldmeier) who fully conveys the affection the young and 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.) Lou convinced him to change his name to Rainer even though she says at one point that it was his feminine qualities that made him irresistible to her.
Because she was an early feminist who drew women from her own upper class to her readings, she faced the anger of her mother, particularly as the older woman, a nice Protestant mom, wanted grandchildren. Andreas-Salomé is the first female psychoanalyst who gained insight into her own conflicts through explorations of her and she was also a poet. The film tracks key points in her life, with brief attention to her childhood ( she is played by Helena Pieske), her teens (Liv Lisa Fries), her middle years (Katharina Lorenz), and her older and still wiser self (Heesters).
She was determined never to marry, never to be intimate, never to be subjected to the will of any man. She believed that intimacy came with a price and that erotic closeness would harm her intellectual development. It takes time for her to reconsider, giving herself to a man first in her early thirties. her marriage to Friedrich Carl Andreas (Merab Ninidze), a scholar without much personality was never consummated as she demanded. It seems that men could not get enough of her, despite her requiring Platonic relationships. This changes when she meets Rilke and passion is unleashed. We watch her experience ecstasy during their lovemaking and we know that she will be carrying on affairs with many others, including a young doctor Pineles (Daniel Sträser) and possibly even Dr. Sigmund Freud (Harald Schrott), who wonders whether she is a classic narcissist.
The four women playing Lou are all excellent and the men show various degrees of emotion as they try to repress their sexual needs. We see that it is indeed possible to be a feminist, an intellectual, a writer, even a hard-to-get player, and still keep “a stable of men who would do anything for the object of their affection and “to revel in the aura she exudes.”
Cordula Kablitz-Post, who co-wrote the film with Suzanne Hertel, has made a truly compelling and fascinating biopic with this film. Lou Andreas-Salomé may have had unorthodox ways of thinking, but her progressive lifestyle and beliefs certainly made headway for women’s rights and empowered other women to pursue education and other ambitious endeavors. Her confidence and inner strength are wonderful examples for women all over to follow suit in some respects.