Czech Republic, Germany, France


LEA is a love story between two outsiders: LEA GAHUT (21), a speech-impaired girl from a rural village in east Slovakia and HERBERT STREHLOW (51), a recluse who lives in an old farmhouse at the edge of the Bavarian forest, where he restores antique furniture.

In 1990 Strehlow comes to Slovakia to settle a property claim. There, he discovers Lea who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, Sophie. Strehlow persuades Lea's step-parents to sell her for DM 50,000, takes her to Germany against her will and forces her to marry him in Denmark.

At the age of seven Lea witnessed the violent death of her mother by her father's hand; a trauma from which she would never recover. She stopped speaking after this incident. She withdraws into a world of dreams and visions, in which her mother is still alive, and devotes herself entirely to this relationship — writing her poems and letters every day.
This imaginary world also serves as her protective Shell which Strehlow tries, in vain, to penetrate.

Lea hates Strehlow. She is wary of the deep, irreconcilable split in his personality and she fears his violent outbursts — that remind her of her father.
We are confronted with a relationship that appears to be doomed from the onset.

Gradually, however, changes begin to occur as they slowly discover the secretive inner core of the other; discover that they are linked by a fragile and lingering bond with the past. For Lea, the painful death of her mother — for Strehlow, the sudden death of his wife. Shattered by this tragic event, Strehlow spends the next 20 years in the French Foreign Legion; an experience that changes him so radically that he is unable to return to "normal" life.

Cracks begin to appear in Strehlow's tough armour. He begins to reveal feelings and emotions that attract Lea's attention and, slowly, her interest.

We observe two uncommon people, at the edge of silence, as they gradually learn to speak a common "language."
Their past — the undead: paves the bridge upon which they ultimately meet.

Director's Statement

Fall 1993. Hamburg. Lea Gahut, 24, dies in hospital following the complications of a massive stroke.
Some time thereafter, a cache of 874 poems and 916 letters, of exceptional beauty and vision, was discovered on the outskirts of a small village in the east of Slovakia. They were unearthed from a Semljanka, a crude underground shelter, where they were found scattered around and an um containing the ashes of Lea's mother who died, in 1976, when Lea was seven years-old. As it was found, the Semljanka was also filled with burning candles. Lea wrote these poems and letters to her mother and sent them year after year, from wherever she happened to live, until her own death in 1993. The secret of this strange relationship is finally aired by the village postman who delivered Lea's letters to her mother's grave.
The remarkable love story that emerges from these poems and letters inspired me to write the following screenplay.
Two years ago, I wrote the preface to a non-existent screenplay and sent it to friends to test their reactions. Everyone wanted to read the it. Encouraged, I fleshed-out the story into an expos6 which I then sent to official channels. Again, it was met with curiosity — people asked to read it. Of all the reactions to this story, the screenplay that followed and finally the film, one central question kept emerging: "Is this a true story?"
As I looked into the eyes of all these questioning people I felt that I had to nod yes, if for no other reason than not to disappoint them. At the beginning I felt somewhat awkward as I nodded my head. In time, however, I became so confident that I myself came to believe that it actually was a true story.
The film is finished now. As it makes its way into the world I have traded the blissful dream of the storyteller for the harder contours of reality — and no longer nod my head.
To the many people I have swindled during this time, I beg their forgiveness. The fact is that in certain instances cinema induces us to lie. Perhaps this is necessary in order to contemplate the truth.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Ivan Fila

Written by: Ivan Fila

Produced by: Ivan Fila, Herbert Rimbach

Cast: Christian Redl (Strehlow), Hanna Schygulla (Wanda), Miroslav Donutil (Gregor Palty), Udo Kier (Block), Lenka Vlasakova (Lea)

Nominations and Awards

  • Young European Film 1996
  • Feature Film Selection 1996