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1 item from 2000

Film review: 'Marlene'

7 August 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

"Marlene" is irresistible -- which does not mean the same thing as being a good movie. But then everything connected to its dazzling subject, the late Marlene Dietrich, has always come tinged with ambiguity and contradictions. Was Dietrich one of the 20th century's greatest stars? Or was she a creature manufactured with her willing but nearly unconscious participation?

"Marlene" is one of those grand, silly celebrity biopics with glamorous decadence, coy suggestions of scandal and a parade of waxworks historical figures. With a budget of DM17.8 million ($9.4 million), "Marlene" claims to be the most expensive Film Production in postwar Germany. But it has not been designed for trans-Atlantic travel.

Shot entirely in German -- ludicrously so in Hollywood sections where everyone from Latino servants to Gary Cooper speaks German -- "Marlene" will have little theatrical impact domestically beyond festival appearances such as the Hollywood Film Festival, where it made its U.S. debut last week. Its best bet is a pay TV slot.

Dietrich's legend rests largely on her last German film, "The Blue Angel" (1930), and her first six American films made at Paramount, all directed by Josef von Sternberg -- her mentor, Svengali and, for many, creator. Those deliciously artificial romances were cinematic essays in tormented love and frustrated passions. At their center was this new icon of sadomasochistic eroticism, who both celebrated and ridiculed her sexuality.

She made films before and since, but it was this image and look, taught to her by von Sternberg, that Dietrich spent her career re-creating.

"Marlene" is blessed with an actress, Katja Flint, who embodies a good deal of the glamour, mischievousness and consuming ambitions of the diva. Flint moves beyond impersonation to a true acting performance in which she creates not Marlene Dietrich but "Marlene Dietrich" -- a person quite comfortable with herself and her highly unorthodox life, a person who has traded happiness for fame and is in no way sorry for making the Faustian bargain.

What is missing is Dietrich's wit. For while the performer took her work seriously, she didn't always take herself seriously.

Based on a biography by her daughter, Maria Riva, "Marlene" covers the period from 1929 to the end of World War II. Key figures include her husband, Rudolf Sieber (Herbert Knaup), whom she seldom saw but never divorced; von Sternberg (Hans-Werner Meyer); young Maria (Josefina Vilsmaier, then others); her nanny and her dad's lover, Tamara (Christiane Paul); and a fictional figure, a Prussian officer named Carl (Heino Ferch), supposedly the great love of Dietrich's life. The latter character is not only superfluous but unfortunate in that it denies Dietrich's fierce independence from such emotional entanglements.

The movie's major failing comes in its depiction of the Dietrich/

von Sternberg relationship. Meyer struts and preens but projects none of the mad-dog charisma and arrogance of the great director. Dietrich's open marriage to Sieber is fleshed out more fully, though you never see how this arrangement affects the daughter.

Dietrich is depicted as addicted to sex, cigarettes, diets, sleeping pills and booze. She is both a hard-working hausfrau and a glamorous bisexual adored by many but understood by few.

If the film is never quite able to figure out whom the real Marlene Dietrich is, well, join the club. Nobody ever did.


Amberlon Pictures

A TPI Trebitsch Production International/Perathon Film production

Producers: Katharina Trebitsch, Jutta Lieck-Klenke, Joseph Vilsmaier

Director/director of photography: Joseph Vilsmaier

Screenwriter: Christian Pfannenschmidt

Executive producer: Peter Sterr

Based on "My Mother Marlene" by: Maria Riva

Production designer: Rolf Zehetbauer

Music: Harald Kloser

Costume designers: Ute Hofinger, Lisy Christl, Brian Rennie

Editors: Barbara Hennings, Gabi Krober



Marlene Dietrich: Katja Flint

Rudolf Sieber: Herbert Knaup

Carl Seidlitz: Heino Ferch

Josef von Sternberg: Hans-Werner Meyer

Tamara Matul: Christiane Paul

Charlotte Seidlitz: Suzanne von Borsody

Running time -- 133 minutes

No MPAA rating


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1 item from 2000

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