A Free Woman
At first glance, A Free Woman (Strohfeuer, 1972) represents a definite break from Schlöndorff's earlier work. At least superficially, it is his most optimistic, upbeat movie up to this time, one that constantly tries to please the audience by being genial and ingratiating. This optimism is due to its main character, Elisabeth, who is so different from Schlöndorff's other main characters from the preceding period. Unlike Baal or Ruth Halbfass, she is likeable; unlike Törless, she tends to be active rather than passive; unlike Michael Kohlhaas or the poor people of Kombach, she does not fail completely. Stylistically, A Free Woman is much more open and spontaneous than its predecessors, substituting an almost documentary-like lightness and immediacy for the oppressive, Fritz Lang—like determinism of the director's usual mise-en-scène.
Acloser look, however, reveals in A Free Woman elements of content, structure, and style that expand and amplify aspects of Schlöndorff's previous films. As Marcel Martin has pointed out, Elisabeth is, like all of Schlöndorff's other main characters, in unsuccessful revolt against the constraints of society (“Feu” 68). And like The Morals of Ruth Halbfass, A Free Woman achieves much of its substance and complexity in its examination of contrasting forms of cultural expression. Like the earlier movie, it contains a pervading message about the interaction between aesthetic practice and political oppression. And again like Ruth Halbfass, it can be read two ways—on a straightforward narrative level and on another that undercuts and questions our first reactions to its more conventionalized elements. A Free Woman is built around contradictions: a contradictory main character who both liberates herself and resists her own liberation and a contradictory dramatic structure that mixes genre sentimentality with ironic self-criticism.
Based on Margarethe von Trotta's own experiences after the collapse of her first marriage, A Free Woman shows the difficulties of an attractive, middle-class woman in trying to succeed on her own. The movie appeared in 1972, when feminism was still a relatively novel subject and is now clearly one of the key