[The Marquise’s Secret]
Lotte Reiniger (DE 1921/22)

Love at first sight strikes a nobleman, who not only wins the heart of his lady through the power of music, but also finds out the secret of her beauty: Nivea soap and cream.
Based on 19th-century shadow theatre, Das Geheimnis der Marquise is composed of paper cut-outs manipulated and photographed frame-by-frame on an animation stand using different layers of bright glass plates illuminated from below. Stop-motion animation allows the simulation of movement and space, even though the abstract figures are reduced to two-dimensionality. The visual style is in the tradition of German Expressionism and abstract film, making it a fitting example of how the avant-garde oscillated between artistic autonomy and contract work.
Interestingly, Marquise is an early reversed silhouette film in black & white, in which elegant white figures on a black background want you to use white Nivea skin products for a “beautiful” and “noble” complexion. This is apt, since the name “Nivea” is the feminine Latin adjective for “snow-white”. Launched in 1911 by the German company Beiersdorf, Nivea’s thick cream purportedly revolutionized skincare, being the “perfect” mixture of moisturizer and nourisher. Originally packed in a yellow art nouveau can, Nivea received its iconic blue container in 1925. The ornamental aesthetics of Marquise thus mirror the rather picturesque style of very early Nivea.
For her sales pitch, Lotte Reiniger addresses women by presenting the exquisite Marquise with her irresistible silky skin as a desired role model with a secret. Yet by letting her share her beauty secret with her male suitor, the commercial also targets men, who could buy Nivea for their very own marquises.
Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981) began working on titles, special effects, and shadow-theatre sequences for the films of Paul Wegener and Rochus Gliese, before pioneering her unique silhouette-film techniques at Berlin’s Institut für Kulturforschung. From 1921-23 she worked for Julius Pinschewer, creating filmed advertisements for a number of products, such as Die Barcarole (1924) for Mauxion pralines. Even though her films were successful, and she produced the first feature-length animation film, Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (1926), her oeuvre was long undervalued: what made her special also marginalized her. With her signature style and unconventional modes of financing, not to mention her gender, Reiniger defied easy placement, continuing to work internationally across a range of media during times of burgeoning nativism and fascism, and putting an emphasis on the educational responsibilities of artists by sharing her knowledge in workshops as well as a book on the art of shadows, published the year of her death.

Sebastian Köthe, Olivia Kristina Stutz, Isabel Krek

regia/dir: Lotte Reiniger.
sponsor: Nivea.
prod: Julius Pinschewer, Werbefilm GmbH.
copia/copy: DCP, 2’15”; did./titles: GER.
fonte/source: Deutsches Filminstitut – DIF, Frankfurt-am-Main.