Emil Jannings dozes off on a chair while a person of ambiguous gender identity, wearing a hoop petticoat, vacuums and removes dust covers. Enters Heinrich George and soon he and Jannings begin talking.
What is the conversation about? Now, that is an interesting question, especially as The Ride Across Lake Constance, in all fairness and right off the bat, is all dialogue and no straight plot. Jannings and George talk about rognons flambés, about semantics and morphologies, about dreams and desires. At one point, the discussion turns to rings and their round shapes.
Then a few moments later the three people return, each clad in flowing garbs of aristocracy, military and sensuality. There is a frenetic exchange of kinks. Violence is confronted. The man shows a magic trick. Everyone runs about, then sings and dances, and never stops talking.
“Words, words, words,” said Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play, and that is exactly how this play sounds. While there is no direct reference to Hamlet’s apparent nihilism in Lake Constance (although existentialism is a major theme here) another Shakespeare character does indeed pop by when Jannings quotes The Comedy of Errors:
Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?
Sleeping or waking, mad or well-advised?
Known unto these, and to myself disguised:
Am I transformed, master, am not I?
Perhaps, one could also call Lake Constance a comedy of errors. There is one scene where Tweedledum and Tweedledee appear – mistaken identity, says one, jumping too quickly – but its punchline is the audience as much as are the characters, who then continue to banter profusely.