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Women, Suicide and Ritual Murder in the 18th Century

`Women, Suicide and Ritual Murder in the 18th Century'

A Panel Discussion between Historians and Filmmakers
For the World Premiere of The Devil’s Bath
in competition at the Berlinale 2024 

Kathy Stuart (University of California, Davis)

Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala (Screenwriters/Directors)

Claudia Stein (University of Warwick/ Institute for the History

of Medicine and Ethics in Medicine at the Charité, Berlin)

 Sunday, February 18, 2024, 16:00-18:00

Berlin Museum of Medical History of the Charité

Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin

(free entry/ reception after the talk)

“To be gone from this world” was the most ardent wish of Agnes, the tragic heroine of The Devil’s Bath, the psychological period drama directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.Agnes feels out of place in the unfamiliar world she has just married into. The film explores her loneliness, melancholy, and the myriad reasons for her growing death wish. Religion taught that suicide meant eternal damnation, but Agnes finds a solution at once ingenious and disturbing. She murders a child, turns herself in to authorities and demands her execution. This brutal crime made perfect sense in Agnes’ world. Agnes believed that by giving confession and expiating her sin on the ravenstone during her beheading she would go to heaven. The character of Agnes is based on historical trial records of two real-life child-killers, Ewa Lizlfellnerin, beheaded in Upper Austria in 1762, and Agnes Catherina Schickin, tried in Württemberg in 1704. Both women feature in Kathy Stuart’s recent book,

Suicide by Proxy in Early Modern Germany: Crime, Sin and Salvation

(Palgrave Macmillan, 2023), two among hundreds of such perpetrators that Stuart uncovered in the Holy Roman Empire between 1580 and 1839.Women, in particular, were drawn to this wide-spread practice. Indeed, Stuart argues, suicidal murderesses beheaded by the state became role models for other desperate women hoping to escape their world of inner suffering

The panel explores how historians and filmmakers approach such interior mental states. Can we ever truly understand historical actors’ feelings of depression or motives for murder? Can the genre of period film open up foreign mental worlds of the past to present-day audiences? How does the cinematic approach differ from academic history writing? Does it matter? Or, are historical film and history writing the perfect team to communicate the complex historicity of human emotions? The discussion (in German), moderated by Dr Claudia Stein, will be followed by an audience Q&A.


The Devil’s Bath, starring Anja Plaschg in the role of Agnes and produced by Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion in co-production with Heimatfilm and Coop99, was selected for the Competition at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, where it will compete for the Golden Bear. The film has its world premiere on February 20, 2024 at the Berlinale.