Engelein is a comedy of deliberately mistaken identity. If Jesta, a 17-year-old, can play the part of a 12-year-old, her family will gain a large inheritance from a rich uncle from Chicago.
Her unruly “play-acting” for the uncle is preceded by an earlier incident in the film that results in Jesta being evicted from her girl’s school. Wearing a long, woman’s skirt, she climbs up a ladder and onto a thatched roof. She reaches over the top of the wall to kiss her boyfriend, who appears from the other side. However, Jesta is caught by the headmistress, and her forced descent is precipitous. Pulled downward, she reveals a great deal of a black-stockinged leg. She looks distinctly sexual as she falls into the matrimonly arms of the law, whose duty is to enforce the rules of female decorum. Thus, regressing to the state of a young child makes certain sense in Jesta’s case, since she has resisted sex role conformity at school. Sexuality provides the continuum between the two states. She falls in love with her uncle, and spends half the film scheming to get him to notice her as “herself”, while simultaneously trying to carry out her contract with her father to be an innocent (if precocious) child. This bizarre conceit is predicated on the fact that the audience knows full well that Jesta is Asta (then youthful 32), and is fully capable of physical passion. Finally, after an internal crisis enacted inventively, frontally before the camera, Jesta decides she cannot be a child any more. She leaves a note for her uncle, and, not knowing what to do, decides to drown herself. We spend quite a long time watching Asta/Jesta lifting her skirts to her waist, wading in and out of the cold water in her short bloomers, looking very sexual in all respects except for her facial grimaces (which express both her comic and impossible situation with respect to her uncle) and the ridiculously huge bow in her hair. Finally, she gives up and goes back into the house. When her uncle decides that he can accept her real age, that he does indeed love her, and it is appropriate to propose marriage, she shocks him with several long, passionate kisses. Now afraid of her sexuality, he reiterates that she is really a child. After more intrigue, he acquiesces, once Jesta is dressed in a beautiful, tasteful gown, looking much older than she is supposed to be. —http://www.film-ist-kultur.de
Peter Urban Gad (12 February 1879 – 26 December 1947) was a Danish film director. He directed 40 film between 1910 and 1927. His wife Asta Nielsen starred in 30 of his films. Also in his debut the famous movie Afgrunden (The Abyss) from 1910. They moved to Germany in 1911 where Gad worked until 1922. —Wikipedia