In Love with Lou

by | 27 May 2017 | Art – Literature

It had its premiere at the Shanghai Film Festival in June last year, just before opening in German cinemas. Titled « In Love with Lou » for its release in English-speaking countries, the movie, directed by the German director, author and producer Cordula Kablitz-Post, depicts the complicated life of Lou Andréas-Salomé.

I watched it in my flight back from Tokyo, two weeks ago. An opportunity to listen to this loved German language too … by chance subtitled in english !

Co-written by Kablitz-Post and Susanne Hertel, the script tells the story from the perspective of the 1930s in Germany, when an ill, lonely but still incredibly vivacious Lou Andréas-Salomé (Nicole Heester) struggles to write her memoirs with the help of a young scholar.

Salomé was born in 1861 in St Petersburg. Her father was an army general and she had four brothers. Although she would later be attacked by the Nazis as a “Finnish Jew”, her parents were actually of French Huguenot and Northern German descent.

When she was 17, Salomé (played by Liv Lisa Fries at this age) persuaded the Dutch Pastor Hendrik Gillot, 25 years her senior, to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions, and  French and German literature.

I smiled when, at the beginning of the movie, then a vivacious teenager, with a wide-open look, seemingly ready for anything, Gillot tells her « If you are serious about philosophy, start with the Greek » … « Aristotle for example ».

Aristotle ! Again !

No reason to smile in reality : the end of the movie reveals how this relation turned dramatic as the Pastor, married with children her age, tried to abuse her, causing a psychological trauma that would ultimately make her relationships with men very difficult. Actually, she promised then herself never fall in love again and forever renounce all erotic experiences …

In the years before World War I, new ideas were spreading across Europe : philosophers asked radical questions about our place in the world ; novelists and playwrights were taking up social issues seldom raised before ; and psychologists were finding layers of memory, previously unknown, in the human unconscious mind itself.

Of Salomé’s early biographers, H. F. Peters, pointed out that, while many modern philosophers preached freedom of the spirit, she was the only one who lived it. She didn’t need anybody for her attempt. At twenty-one, she just vowed “to make her own life according to herself, whatever may come of it. … 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 movie tells this clash between autonomy and intimacy, a very modern story when you look at the life of so many young working women today. “Would you deny yourself the most beautiful thing in life ?” tells her a Rilke passionately in love with her.

Considered as one of Europe’s most influential intellectuals, Lou Andreas-Salomé bridged different worlds, philosophy, literature, psychology, making contributions to each of them.

In 1911 she travelled to Vienna, seeking advice from Sigmund Freud. With his help, she was able to uncover the youthful trauma that had made it so difficult for her to build relationships. She and Freud eventually became good friends, and Lou Andréas-Salomé began her career as one of the first female psychoanalysts, eventually becoming one of the most famous one.

Behind the psychological story, the movie brings you in lovingly re-created period interiors and lush landscapes. You are brought to these European capitals I love so much : Zurich, the only place in Europe where a woman could study philosophy at the time, Rome, Vienna, Berlin …

In 1936, a few days before her death in Göttingen, an unforgettable place for the fans of the French singer Barbara, the Gestapo confiscated her library : she had been a colleague of Sigmund Freud, had practiced “Jewish science”, and had many books by Jewish authors in her library !

A fascinating European woman : a writer, a muse, a feminist and a “femme fatale” who met and influenced important thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Rainer-Maria Rilke, all of them eventually falling in love with her. To their sorrow …

Iconography : Liv Lisa Fries playing Lou Andreas-Salomé at the age of 17 in “In Love with Lou”, by German director Cordula Kablitz-Post, release June 2016.