Lou Andreas-Salome, The Audacity to Be Free is an awkward mouthful of a title, but this biographical study of a trailblazing 19th century intellectual offers a worthwhile history lesson. The first female psychoanalyst, Lou Andreas-Salome sought out educational pursuits starting in her teenage years, writing books and forming personal and professional relationships with Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud. The film finds the elderly Salome (Nicole Heesters) recounting her story to a young man writing her biography. The period settings are suitably lovely, and flashbacks are introduced with images of the young Salome walking through postcards, which sounds gimmicky, but actually serves as a rather clever and aesthetically pleasing transitional device. Less successful is a godly apparition that appears to Salome: As a child, she sees God while praying and the image of him is made of such shoddy looking CGI that it feels like kitsch in an otherwise serious film. For most of the runtime, Salome is played by Katharina Lorenz, who brings a pleasing confidence to the role.
Salome is a bold, feminist figure, to be sure, but she's also presented as an intellectual dream girl -- pretty much every man she encounters seems to be in love with her, which may have been accurate, given the rarity of women devoting themselves to philosophy at the time. Salome would be better served by a story that focuses more explicitly on her intellectual life rather than her personal one, but considering how stodgy biopics can be, Lou Andreas-Salome, The Audacity to Be Free offers a mostly engaging portrait of a charismatic and brilliant figure.