Impossible Love

Original Title: Unmögliche Liebe. (Vera Holgk und ihre Töchter.) Intimate drama 1932; 88 min.; Director: Erich Waschneck; Cast: Asta Nielsen, Ery Bos, Ellen Schwanneke, Hans Rehmann, Elisabeth Wendt, Anton Pointner, Walter Steinbeck, Lotte Spira, Carl Balhaus, Hilde Hildebrand, Julius Falkenstein, Werner Scharf; Märkische-Tobis-Klangfilm.

A sculptor, a mother of adult daughters, becomes the victim of a scandal in her late love affair with a colleague. Her daughters turn against her. When the woman discovers that her lover is married, albeit to an incurably insane woman, she quietly walks away, alone.

Three women – Vera Holgk and her two daughters – were good companions until one seemingly harmless evening. At a musical soiree, Nora, the eldest daughter, played the cello, while Vera, the mother, met a man. Meanwhile, Toni, the youngest daughter, felt bored. Fifteen years ago, Vera Holgk, a Baltic woman, arrived in Berlin with her two little girls, fleeing from the revolution after her husband, a Russian officer, passed away. With iron determination, Vera forged an existence as a sculptor in a porcelain factory, filled with suppressed dreams of being a woman and an artist.

At Consul Werner’s event, Vera encountered the sculptor Steinkampp, and their connection went beyond a chance meeting. Vera knew that Steinkampp meant more to her than a mere acquaintance, but she resisted admitting it. She found herself experiencing a beautiful realization, embracing her identity not only as a mother but also as an attractive woman. Things progressed faster than Vera had anticipated. Steinkampp stirred her artistic honor and offered his studio for her to participate in a sculpture competition. Unable to resist the temptation, Vera left her job at the factory without informing her daughters.

However, a coincidence led Nora to uncover Vera’s deceit. Disturbed by the revelation that their mother was hiding something and no longer belonged to them, each of the girls began living their own lives. On the same evening Vera met Steinkampp, Nora met Mr. von Möllenhof, a young diplomat from a wealthy family, who proposed to her. Nora happily accepted. Toni, working in a photo studio, was in love with a colleague who desired to travel the world as a press photographer with her. The three women, once living together, now lived separately, experiencing a sudden loneliness.

Despite the emotional distance from her daughters, Vera found herself happier than ever before. Pressured by their mistrust, she shared her participation in the competition with them, but kept her relationship with Steinkampp a secret. Only two people knew about Vera’s visits to Steinkampp’s studio: his servant and his former lover, Fräulein Martini, who sought revenge for her abrupt dismissal.

During this period of happiness, Vera reached the peak of her success as she received the first prize for her sculpture. However, on the same night, when she anticipated Steinkampp’s proposal, Fräulein Martini took action and reported scandalous details about Vera’s relationship with him. Vera, blissfully unaware of the scandal, celebrated her achievement. Her children continued to show their love, and the previous misunderstandings seemed forgotten. They believed their mother’s secrecy was justified by her award-winning work. Steinkampp, the daughters, and even Nora’s somewhat difficult fiancé were proud of Vera.

Suddenly, Nora and her fiancé came across a newspaper article revealing the scandalous details about Vera and Anton Steinkampp. Concerned, they rushed to the Holgk’s apartment, but Vera received a phone call that called her home. Tormented by fear, she arrived home to find three people who didn’t believe the newspaper reports. Conflicted, Vera faced a difficult choice. Should she deny the accusations or confess to being Steinkampp’s lover?

Ultimately, Vera chose to initially forbid her future son-in-law from interfering in her affairs, leading to an embarrassing scene that resulted in Nora finding her mother’s zest for life embarrassing and leaving the house. However, Toni, empathizing with her mother, sought to help her. She cautiously went to the editorial office of “Gerechtigkeit” (Justice) and discovered that Steinkampp was married, with his wife confined to a mental institution for years. Toni, deeply sympathetic to her mom’s plight, reported this information.

In her desperate state of mind, Vera initially refused to believe that Steinkampp was married and harshly rejected Toni. Determined to find the truth, Vera visited the sanatorium to see if there was a patient by the name of Steinkampp. There, she encountered a quiet woman who only experienced fleeting moments of belief in her husband’s love. Overwhelmed with emotion, Vera couldn’t hold back her tears as she walked through the sanatorium park, the late autumn atmosphere reflecting her own sorrow. She pitied the fleeting happiness she had experienced in the past few weeks, realizing that she was now even poorer than during the fifteen loveless years.

j-n.’s review in Film Kurier No. 303 (December 24, 1932)
Asta Nielsen delivers her first performance in a sound film, portraying the compassionate mother of two grown daughters. The film’s central conflict arises from the mother’s respectful treatment of her daughters, a concept that remains relevant and relatable.

However, Asta Nielsen herself becomes the core of the problem. She works as a sculptor in an artist’s studio and creates an award-winning sculpture. Unfortunately, this achievement becomes the subject of a malicious gossip article in a tabloid. To make matters worse, she discovers that the man she loves, who reciprocates her feelings, has concealed the fact that he is married, albeit to a mentally ill woman.

In a poignant scene, Asta Nielsen silently visits this woman in the sanatorium. Only the sick woman speaks, portrayed with powerful emotion by Elisabeth Wendt, while Nielsen stands before her, her face reflecting pain and disappointment. There are no exaggerated expressions or dramatic contortions; instead, it’s as if the sun is gradually being obscured, shadows enveloping a once vibrant existence and extinguishing all signs of life.

Subsequently, Nielsen walks alone into the distance, marking the film’s conclusion without a happy ending. The pain and anguish subside, leaving the viewer to contemplate what lies ahead.

The film consciously avoids adhering to the typical conventions and steers clear of a formulaic happy ending. This conscious deviation is almost overly cautious, as there is no reason why a happy ending should be regarded as trite. The artistic integrity of the performance should never be compromised by superficialities.

Nielsen’s portrayal is emotionally stirring not only in her tragic moments but also in the lighter scenes that prevent the film from becoming excessively heavy. Another director, apart from Erich Waschnek, would likely have pursued a weightier tone in this particular scenario.

Waschnek, together with Franz Winterstein, also co-authored the screenplay, which exhibits meticulous craftsmanship in its scenes and emphasizes linguistic clarity and conciseness in its dialogue.

The fact that this film was produced in a remarkably short time without displaying any signs of haste is a testament to Waschnek’s skill and efficient production management.

One may wonder about Nielsen’s transition to sound. It is worth noting that she speaks with a slight foreign accent, which actually worked to her advantage in a stage role she portrayed during her hiatus from filmmaking. In that play, she had to depict a foreign character who was not fluent in the German language.

Nielsen excels in the realm of sound. Her accent is scarcely noticeable, and when it does emerge, it adds to the allure of her appearance and performance.

Waschnek’s confident direction effectively guides the ensemble, both in their physicality and the construction of their dialogues. Ellen Schwaneke and Ery Bos convincingly depict the daughters, each embodying their unique traits. Julius Falkenstein’s understated yet expressive and internally comedic performance garners special applause on multiple occasions, providing a delightful and reconciling touch to several serious scenes.

Anton Pointner and Hilde Hildebrandt portray their respective characters with authenticity and effectiveness. Hans Rehmann, in the role of the sculptor, skillfully avoids descending into the realm of excessive pathos that the role could easily tempt. Carl Ballhaus brings to life a simple yet unconventional young man.

Bruno Mondis’ photography captures the essence of each character’s individuality in this vibrant and nuanced film. The set designs and interiors by Hans Jacoby, while competent, carry a somewhat impersonal quality.

The ovations bestowed upon Nielsen and the entire cast are a testament to their remarkable performances and contributions.