Miss Butterfly

(Fräulein Schmetterling)

GDR, 1965/2020, 68 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


When their father dies, 17-year-old Helene Raupe and her little sister become orphans. Abandoned by their aunt, they must face the challenges of daily life in East Berlin. Helene is only happy in her dreams, where she can fly or be a stewardess or model. In real life, in contrast, she fails to meet people’s expectations and loses several jobs. 


Combining fantasy scenes and documentary elements filmed with a hidden camera on the streets, Miss Butterfly was slated to be the first official experimental feature film made in the GDR. While still in production in 1965/1966, however, it was banned for its supposedly negative portrayal of everyday reality and its representation of bourgeois philosophies. In 2020, this unique film was finally reconstructed based on the original script, using preserved film and audio materials. The scenario was written by Christa Wolf and Gerhard Wolf.


Although Miss Butterfly was to be the first official experimental feature film in the GDR, it was banned after the presentation of the rough cut, in the aftermath of the 11th Plenum of the Central Committee of the GDR’s Socialist Unity Party (SED). As a reason, officials cited its negative portrayal of everyday reality and its clear reflection of bourgeois philosophies.


A poetic contemporary fairy tale, Miss Butterfly was screened for the first time in 2005. Working with preserved film and audio materials, film historians and archivists reconstructed this unique film collage on the basis of the original script.


2021 Cottbus Film Festival, Germany
2016 Berlin International Film Festival, Germany
2012 Neisse Film Festival, Germany


Press comments

“It is a beautiful, delightful film. Its final release is a big step forward towards a more complete view of both GDR New Wave cinema and the works of Christa and Gerhard Wolf.”—Robert Blankenship, California State Univ. Long Beach


“A contemporary fairytale […] and a plea for fantasy and individuality that is stylistically based on works of the Czech New Wave.” —dhm.de


“Debut director Kurt Barthel envisioned a homage to Italian neorealism with its combination of real life and surreal daydreams.” —Jörg Taszman, epd-film.de


“Over five decades after the film was shot, the DEFA Foundation reconstructed Miss Butterfly, the last of the series of DEFA films banned [in 1965-66]. […] It is an amalgam of poetic contemporary fairy tale, documentary daily realism and clownish melancholy.”  —Cottbus Film Festival, 2021


“A poetic, everyday fairy tale about the desire for freedom and individual self-fulfillment.” —Potsdam Film Museum


“With a script from the great East German author Christa Wolf (and Gerhard Wolf) and daring cinematography inspired by the Czech New Wave, Miss Butterfly was poised to introduce experimental filmmaking to the East German public in 1965. … Fantasy and documentary realism are masterfully combined to bring Helene’s world to life and tell a story of subjective authenticity.”   —Savannah Champion, The Brooklyn Rail



Buy the DVDStream
DVD Bonus Features:
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • “The Production History and Reconstruction of Miss Butterfly,” by film historian Ralf Schenk
  • “An Interview with Director Kurt Barthel,” by film historian Ralf Schenk
  • “Christa Wolf and Film,” by film historian Ralf Schenk”
  • Time Loops: In Conversation with Christa Wolf (GDR, 1990-91, dir. Karlheinz Mund, 110 min., color & b/w, doc.)

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