It's the wedding night of Eva Herrmann (Hedy Lamarr as her original name, Hedy Kiesler), who has just been married to the older Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz), but though he is happy to carry her over the threshhold of their new apartment, he is more concerned with getting his tight shoes off than getting into bed with her. She tries to seduce him in the bathroom as he brushes his teeth, but while he is affectionate enough, what he ends up doing is falling asleep in there while she awaits him in the bedroom, sprawled on the sheets. It's safe to say marriage for Eva is not what she expected...
Ekstase was a film whose notoriety went before it, eclipsing the work of Czech director Gustav Machatý, who had made an international impact with his silent Erotikon a few years before, by regarding all his careful stylings as nothing more than a sensational softcore porn flick. Yet while sex and a woman's fulfilment in that area was ahead of its time as a subject for a movie - there is still a certain amount of unease depicting that on screen in anything but the most opaque terms - this wasn't an hour and a half of future Hollywood star Lamarr romping in the nude, although that's the reputation it wound up with, being censored across the globe and decried by the moralists as wicked.
Actually, there's only one scene where Hedy got naked and that was when her character went riding, halting her horse next to a lake and whipping off her clothes for a nude swim. By this stage she is already divorced from Emile since their marriage went unconsummated, so when the horse gets skittish and runs off, she has no choice but to run after it starkers; it looks tame now even if the novelty of seeing an actress who would go on to star alongside superstars like Charles Boyer and Bob Hope in a state of utter undress was not to be dismissed lightly, but back in 1933 this was scandalous, though did make it very popular in cinemas willing to show it uncut, as even after the Second World War it was a draw for soldiers from both sides.
It's not Eva who catches the horse, but nearby labourer Adam (Adam and Eve-a, geddit?) who brings the steed back to her as she hides in the bushes. At first she's annoyed to be in such a compromising position, but once he hands the clothes over and is nice to a bee, she begins to thaw, as she was dismayed to see Emile kill such an insect earlier. This connection with nature is an important one, and referred to again and again, so that we are in no doubt Eva must give in to her natural desires, and Adam is the fellow to supply that satisfaction. This happens in a screen first: not the first woman shown full frontally naked, as Hedy was here, but the first woman shown having an orgasm.
Lamarr was acting of course, but even the acknowledgement of such an experience was shocking at this time, which was more to do with its banning across the globe than the skinny dipping. Yet oddly, Machatý was reluctant to allow his heroine to capitalise on her newfound happiness, as if in a moralistic development tragedy is lurking around the corner when Emile feels humiliated by being such a letdown to Eva. So perhaps Ekstase was not as progressive when it drew to a close than many of its champions would like to think, as this concluding misery for lovers was a fixture of many a movie, way up to the present day, even when the couple are very good for one another. Better not to dwell on the director's uncertain principles and appreciate his near-experimental techniques, presented like a silent movie with sparingly dubbed dialogue, and his heavily symbolic imagery is still striking today, though the hymn to hard work at the finale comes out of nowhere and may baffle in light of what came before. Music by Giuseppe Becce.