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Madeleine's Silence, Smile, and Musical Communication in Romanze in Moll

The motifs of smiles, silence, and music are of central importance for the character of Madeleine in Käutner's Romanze in Moll. Not only does Madeleine's silent smile motivate much of the action in the film, but it reveals details about her own role and about her reaction to the men who cluster around her. Michael, Victor, and Madeleine's husband all communicate with her in different ways, and she responds to each of them accordingly: at times with her smile or similar non-verbal cues, or with music, but only rarely with words. Significantly, Madeleine's world revolves around her non-verbal communication, but this ultimately leads to her downfall, because she has no power to defend herself against verbal and physical advances from the men around her.

Throughout the film, the viewer is aware of how little Madeleine actually speaks. This silence begins (and ends) with the opening sequence, in which Madeleine's husband, coming home after a night playing cards with his friends, happily recounts his winnings to Madeleine as she lies in bed, supposedly asleep. Immediately the viewer is aware that something is wrong: normal communication guidelines would prevent Madeleine from remaining totally silent, and would require at least an acknowledgement of her husband's presence. But the husband is oblivious to the situation, and continues to chatter away at her, just as if she had responded. In fact, there is a reason he never notices her silence: as the viewer later discovers, the husband's communication with Madeleine consists in every conversation almost exclusively of statements and rhetorical questions, no matter what the topic. This scene proves no exception, for, instead of asking her if she is asleep, he tells her that she is not: "ich merk' ja doch, daß du nicht schläfst." Indeed, it is only when he asks her a true question ("was bekomm' ich denn dafür?" as he shows her his winnings) that he notices her silence and begins to realize the truth. Having reached this state of total silence through her death, Madeleine has completed the process which we have seen developing throughout the film. Her passivity in response to her husband's verbose barrage, after having laid the groundwork for her reactions to Michael and to Victor, has led to her capitulation to Victor's demands and thus to her own suicide.

When Michael and Madeleine first meet in front of the jeweler's window, for instance, Madeleine shows a surprising strength and independence: she initiates the communication by smiling. Her active role in the relationship is set up, and it continues as she defends herself against Michael's remark, protesting, "Höflichkeit ist eine Tugend." We notice, however, that her response to Michael's whistle is far more pronounced than her reaction to his words: immediately upon hearing the tune, she looks startled, and quickly leaves the scene. It seems, in fact, as if the music has spoken to her somehow, telling her something that words could not. This idea is reinforced at other points in Madeleine's dealings with Michael, when, for instance, the two argue about whether the romance should be in major or minor. "Eine Abschiedsmelodie," Madeleine claims, as if the music itself has foretold to her the story of her affair. A similar message is transmitted during the final concert, when the melody of the romance recounts the events of the two affairs to Madeleine, causing her to review what she has done, and even motivating her steps to end the entire misadventure.

The power of music in Madeleine's communication should not be understated: she even uses music as a means of expressing what she could not otherwise say, as when she emphasizes her point in the argument with Michael by tapping out a short flourish on the piano, ending the conversation. Her own statement, "ich liebe die Musik," can be seen as a guiding factor in her life, but one that her husband never seems to grasp. Seemingly blind (and deaf) to her love for music, he interrupts her at the piano and later fails to recognize that she would much prefer a concert to the circus. Up until the end, he does not notice the significance which music has for Madeleine: the closest he comes to this insight is in their last exchange, where she thanks him "für alles," and he takes her overly emotional response to be an aftereffect of the concert. "Na ja, die Musik," he mumbles, and leaves her, as alone as ever.

This dependence on music as a form of communication, especially when combined with Madeleine's silent bearing in everyday conversation, indicates an inability on her part to take control or to use speech as an effective means of communication, at least in certain situations. It is noteworthy here to see that Madeleine never opposes or argues with her husband, yet she is much less inhibited when conversing with the musician Michael. With her husband, as we have seen, she is very passive, and does not even attempt to respond to most of his statements; she never disagrees or openly contradicts him in speech. Importantly, the one time that she does gain control over him, she does so through actions rather than words: when convincing him to stay in for the evening and not to play cards, her words achieve nothing, and it is the act of her taking off his coat that persuades him to remain.

With Michael, however, her role is far more active: she makes numerous remarks and observations which are not in line with the composer's expressed views, sometimes replying on a verbal level, and other times on a musical or physical one. In defending her obligations to her husband, for instance, she replies to Michael that although he doesn't take such matters into consideration, she must, and she accompanies her statement with her characteristic sad smile. Most often, though, her response to Michael (and also to her husband) is only this smile, which, as Michael notes, is her excuse and at the same time her answer. She cannot normally express what she feels through words, because, as she tells Michael, "sobald man es ausspricht, ist es schon vorbei."

Madeleine's smile empowers her in a way that words cannot, and thus resembles the function of music for her, letting her respond without jeopardizing her privacy or her integrity. Like the music, too, her smile is always melancholy, always in a minor key. In fact, the power of Madeleine's smile is such that it continues to affect the men around her even after her death: while staring at her picture on the desk, her husband finally puts the question to her that she would never have dared to answer in life, begging to know, "Warum hast du das getan?" He then becomes enraged and throws the picture to the floor, almost as if the smile on Madeleine's face had revealed to him the truth that she could not convey. Michael, too is strongly affected by her smile. He calls it "merkwürdig" and "undurchsichtig," but the truth is that neither he, nor Victor, nor the husband can fully understand this form of communication, because they cannot share Madeleine's responses to her world: she functions and communicates on an entirely different level.

By the time that Madeleine meets Victor, her inability to communicate effectively by traditional verbal means has been clearly established. Victor, though, presents a different type of character for her to deal with. Whereas Michael's advances had come to her through music, and had thus been able to reach through her barriers, Victor operates on the verbal level of Madeleine's husband. Like the husband, Victor bombards Madeleine with statements and rhetorical questions, and although he does occasionally inquire truthfully of her, he seldom gives her the time she needs to answer, but instead cuts her off or puts words in her mouth. His manipulations of their conversations prevent Madeleine from taking any sort of control over his actions; indeed, she is sometimes incapable of effecting any verbal response at all to his behavior. She is then forced to resort not to music (as she could with Michael), but to actions, as when she throws the wine at Victor at the dinner party, or faints in the hall after his demands have been made. It is this inability which causes her to capitulate to Victor, and thus commit the final moral breach which leads to her tragedy.

In essence, then, Madeleine's dependency upon non-verbal forms of communication, which begins merely as her strategy for coping with her husband's ceaseless prattling, is in fact strengthened by her affair with Michael, which serves as a crutch, allowing her to express herself and to be understood through music and actions. It is, however, this very avoidance of speech which contributes in the end to Victor's power over her and thus to her downfall. Not surprisingly, it proves to be only the men in Madeleine's life over whom she has no control: witness the confrontation she has with the concierge after arriving home early in the morning, where she is able to defend herself quite satisfactorily against the woman's insinuations through her use of speech. Madeleine's passivity towards men on her part can be taken, then, not necessarily as a commentary on the supposed weakness of the woman that she is, but as a criticism of the manipulative and abusive power of the men around her, who disregard and take advantage of her frailties for their own profit, though doing so only causes, in the end, catastrophe for all involved.

Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1994 for German 655 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "Madeleine's Silence, Smile, and Musical Communication in Romanze in Moll." Website Article. 19 October 1994. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/655short2.html>.