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|Index||19 reviews in total|
This second half of Fritz Lang's epic filming of the Nibelungen Saga has
many of the same strengths as the first, with memorable characters and
interesting, atmospheric settings. This part of the story continues with
many of the same characters, but the story itself is of a much different
nature. There is less complexity but more action, with the entire focus
being on Kriemhild and her inflexible desire for revenge. This part of the
story does not have such interesting relationships amongst the characters as
did the first part, but instead provides first and foremost an unforgettable
portrait of the obsessed Kriemhild.
She, Gunther, and Hagen are now thoroughly defined characters who have chosen where they stand, and so there is not the kind of dramatic uncertainty and tension that the first part held. Instead, there is a more straightforward battle of wills, but with an added wild card in the person of Attila, portrayed memorably and with great energy by Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Attila and the Huns are depicted in a way that most likely has little basis in history, but it is certainly interesting to see the bizarre fashion in which the Huns and their world are portrayed. As events unfold, the developments are not always fully plausible, but the stakes and the pressure on each side steadily rise, building to an intense climax.
What you remember most after the film is over is the remorseless, implacable Kriemhild. With her costume obscuring almost everything else, Margarete Schön portrays the depth of Kriemhild's emotions and determination using only her face and, especially, her eyes. It is about as memorable a portrait as you will find in cinema of the madness and destructive fury of revenge. While "Kriemhild's Revenge", as a whole, does not have the thematic depth of "Siegfried", it succeeds in establishing this central image in a manner not easily forgotten.
Please see also my comment on Die Nibelungen part 1: Siegfried.
The second part of UFA studio's gargantuan production of the Nibelungen saga continues in the stylised, symphonic and emotionally detached manner of its predecessor. However, whereas part one was a passionless portrayal of individual acts of heroism, part two is a chaotic depiction of bloodletting on a grand scale.
As in part one, director Fritz Lang maintains a continuous dynamic rhythm, with the pace of the action and the complexity of the shot composition rising and falling smoothly as the tone of each scene demands. These pictures should only be watched with the note-perfect Gottfried Huppertz score, which fortunately is on the Kino DVD. Now, with this focus on mass action, Lang is presented with greater challenges in staging. The action sequences in his earliest features were often badly constructed, but now he simply makes them part of that rhythmic flow, with the level of activity on the screen swelling up like an orchestra.
But just as part one made us witness Siegfried's adventures matter-of-factly and without excitement, part two presents warfare as devastating tragedy. In both pictures, there is a deliberate lack of emotional connection with the characters. That's why Lang mostly keeps the camera outside of the action, never allowing us to feel as if we are there (and this is significant because involving the audience is normally a distinction of Lang's work). That's also why the performances are unnaturally theatrical, with the actors lurching around like constipated sleepwalkers.
Nevertheless, Kriemhild's revenge does constantly deal with emotions, and is in fact profoundly humanist. The one moment of naturalism is when Atilla holds his baby son for the first time, and Lang actually emphasises the tenderness of this scene by building up to it with the wild, frantic ride of the huns. The point is that Lang never manipulates us into taking sides, and in that respect this version has more in common with the original saga than the Wagner opera. The climactic slaughter is the very antithesis of a rousing battle scene. Why then did Hitler and co. get so teary-eyed over it, a fact which has unfairly tarnished the reputation of these films? Because the unwavering racial ideology of the Nazis made them automatically view the Nibelungs as the good guys, even if they do kill babies and betray their own kin. For Hitler, their downfall would always be a nationalist tragedy, not a human one.
But for us non-nazi viewers, what makes this picture enjoyable is its beautiful sense of pageantry and musical rhythm. When you see these fully-developed silent pictures of Lang's, it makes you realise how much he was wasted in Hollywood. Rather than saddling him with low-budget potboilers, they should have put him to work on a few of those sword-and-sandal epics, pictures that do not have to be believable and do not have to move us emotionally, where it's the poetic, operatic tonality that sweeps us along.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although this is not as immediately thrilling as it's prequel (*Die
Nibelungen: Siegfried*), I thought this film had an incredibly complex and
quite dark climax and ending. The film does not contain all of the
fantastical aspects of the first film, although the set design (especially
of the Hun's castle and village) was still pretty amazing. What I liked
most about the film, though, was the way in which there is no clear good
bad guy by the end. By now, we're all used to this sort of thing, but I
have to think that this was a much rarer and more risky endeavor in the 20s
than it is at the end of a century of film.
[There are probably going to be spoilers below, so if you haven't seen the film and want to without hearing all of the plot, don't keep reading on.] Some of the comments I've read about the film is that this is pretty pro-fascist film, citing the fact that this was one of Hitler's favorites. I can see how a quick reading of the film would elicit this response, but I really do think that it is much more complex than that. The loyalty Kriemhild's family shows to the hagen is at times portrayed in a very patriotic and positive light. At one point, the Huns demand the handover of the hagen in order to let the rest free and the Burgunds say, "You obviously don't know the Germans." They stand by their people through thick and thin and are referred to as heroes. And, when they finally die in the fire, most of the Huns are now against their death. This all would seem to say that loyalty to the homeland is honorable regardless of mitigating factors.
However, what are they being loyal to? Clearly, the hagen is an evil character. Not only does he kill Siegfried in the first film, but he also kills Kriemhild's defenseless child. There's not much honor there. Also, what is the result of the Burgunds' loyalty? Ignominious death by fire (they don't even die valiantly in battle). And so, yes, Lang is clearly trying to get us to question the ferocity of Kriemhild's lust for revenge. But, equally, Lang seems also to be saying that her family is just as blinded by their own sense of loyalty to stop the inevitable train of events. The tragic ending, then, becomes one which is not just caused by Kriemhild's rage, but also by the Burgunds' blind loyalty to something and someone who does not deserve it. After all, in many senses, Kriemhild's revenge is just (doubly so once her child is killed). No one comes out the hero by the end of the film.
So, a little slower than the first part. But, the philosophical issues which are raised by the end are well worth the wait. I honestly thought this was one of the deeper films I've seen in a while.
Like grand opera, this film and its predecessor, "Siegfried", are a little
too slow in pace, but the visual treats are unforgettable. It is best to
see the two films together, but the sequel is not as good, mainly because
there is not very much story left. Most of the time it's just Kriemhild
wandering around looking vengeful, but Margarethe Schoen does it so well!
The performance of Rudolph Klein-Rogge as Attila the Hun is wildly energetic
- he is magnificent. But you can't help thinking why don't they just kill
Hagen Tronje and get on with life, especially after he murders the baby.
Something to do with Teutonic loyalty apparently.
But who can forget the rabbit-warren Hun village, and all those grubby Huns running about. Of course the film is racist as the Teutons somehow survive against overwhelming numbers of Huns - no wonder Hitler liked this film. "Siegfried" was very fascist too, with the glorious Aryan impregnable and very gorgeous (thanks to Paul Richter). But "Kriemhild's Revenge" lacks the wonderful fantasy sequences of "Siegfried" like the dwarves kingdom and especially that superb dragon fight - but at least here Kriemhild herself gets some balls - she seemed so stupid in "Siegfried".
This film portrays revenge on an operatic scale. But do not confuse with Wagner's opera Das Ring des Nibelungen. Although both the film and Wagner's opera are based on related Norse and Icelandic sagas, Wagner devotes attention to Brünnhilde's reaction to the death of Siegfried rather than on Siegfried's widow Gutrune's (i.e. Kriemhilde's) reaction to the murder of the hero. Both the film and the opera are romantic in style. But unlike the 19th century opera, the film has elements of early 20th-century German expressionism. Everything about this film is perfect. The acting is over the top, as it needs to be. The sets are sublime. The crowd scenes are powerful. Imagine a film where the heroine makes Attlla the Hun (Etzel) seem like a reasonable, sympathetic host.
I saw this film last night at a special movie theater showing in Nürnberg,
and it was superb. I do have to admit that the original music composition
the cello player and percussion/xylophone player influenced the mood of
film, but the film itself also had force in its portrayal of the tragic
If you are interested in silent films or in the Nibelungenlied, I highly recommend this film. The costumes were fantastic and creative, the sets were opulent and exotic, and the acting was dramatic and breathtaking (as is typical of silent film "tragedies") Unfortunately, I have not seen the first part of this film duo that concerns Siegfried. The story of this second film begins after Siegfried's death, when Kremhild (Gudrun in the Norse versions of the story) begins to plan her revenge against her brothers.
Also, I watched this film in German; I am a native English speaker and have a basic German knowledge. It was difficult to read the ?subtitles (what do you call that in silent films?) at first because of the old style German script, so I advise that if you watch it in German that you make sure you can differentiate your "k's", "f's", and "s's" in the old script. :)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In some ways, The Wrath of Kriemhild surpasses Siegfried's Death, but it also loses some of that film's greatness. The plot of this one is more cohesive than the first, which is quite amazing. The second half of the actual poem is a lot sloppier and a lot harder to tread through, until, that is, you get to the climactic battle scenes; only the Iliad's are better. Lang and Harbou embellished the Huns. The poet-compiler of the Nibelungenlied didn't know a Hun from his right ball, and as a result they are, more or less, the same as the Burgundians in custom. For example, although the poet clearly describes Etzel as a heathen (which is Kriemhild's main concern as Rudiger tries to persuade her to marry him), when she gets to Hunland, the first thing she does is go to mass. The Huns here are clearly heathens; they're almost like caveman. The depiction of them is hilarious, especially Verbal, the jester, who has two marvelous scenes. Etzel's character has been given more weight. He is much more formidable. All he does is bemoan his fate in the original poem. Lang and Harbou are masterful at building suspense, especially at the banquet scene, which is intercut with Verbal's second performance to an amazing effect. However, as is the nature of this half of the poem, the film's amazing technical accomplishments are missing in this one, for the most part, except for a dazzling sequence where Etzel's hall burns down with the Nibelungs inside. The one thing I do have to object to is the way Harbou changes the ending. SPOILERS: in the poem, after Hildebrand captures Hagen and Gunther, they are imprisoned. Kriemhild visits Hagen in his cell and demands that he reveal where he has hidden the horde. He refuses and she herself decapitates her brother. When Hagen still refuses, she decapitates him. Hildebrand (or possibly Dietrich) is so disgusted that a woman would presume to murder a great warrior that he, in turn, decapitates her, calling her a "Devil Woman". Etzel, who is much weaker in the poem than he is here, says something silly like: "Ah me!" I can understand why they would want to keep a unity of time and place as Hildebrand brings them from the castle; to retain the prison settings of the two deaths would make the film very anticlimactic. I also understand why they didn't have Hildebrand kill Kriemhild: his character is much reduced here; his name is only mentioned once. But, to have Kriemhild kill herself, adopting Brynhild's death from the Icelandic sources, is just catering to the audience instead of challenging them. The point of the poem is that Kriemhild's wrath goes far beyond it should into the realm of pure evil. Here, we simply have her die for her lost love. It's not as interesting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The second half of Fritz Lang's version of the Nibelungen saga employs
many of the same cinematic devices as the first: huge sets, use of
seasons as a motif and strong characterisation.
To examine the last point first, Kriemhild's lust for revenge and descent into madness is much more believable here than in the original text of the epic. Instead of an abrupt, almost schizophrenic change in personality, her initial horror at Siegfried's death becomes a cold burning desire for revenge, even at the cost of the lives of her siblings and the complete annihilation of the Burgundian court. I have never looked at any feminist readings of this film but it would be fascinating to do so. Kriemhild evolves from a princess who is respected yet ultimately powerless against her male clan members to someone who takes decisive action and destroys that very male dominance, bringing the patriarchy of the Burgundians toppling down.
The "seasonal" motif is subtle yet effective, ranging from Kriemhild's arrival at the court of the Huns in a spring to showing the children dancing around the stark, bare tree as Attila's hordes descend upon them.
Again, though, it is the architecture and cinematography, (even given the limitations of the largely static early cameras), which is most astounding. The contrast between the awe-inspiring architecture of the Burgundians compared to the warrens of the Huns has led some to view the film through a race-prism (especially given von Harbou's later association with the Nazis) but it is also effective to show how much Kriemhild is prepared to demean herself for her vengeance - to consort with the "barbarians" in their hovel and even give birth to their leader's child.
As an aside, Attila's interesting comments about desert dwellers always showing absolute respect to a guest shows a link between his pagan culture and the emerging Christianity that was set to become the dominant religion in Europe. Much recent research into the Old Testament has gone into understanding the ethics of desert nomads and their huge esteem for guests, which has thrown new light onto some of the stranger bible stories in Genesis, etc. Likewise, throughout this film, there is a strange amalgam of pagan and Christian beliefs. Whilst they clash strongly in the Burgundian court, with the characters being supposedly Christian, yet vaunting a love of militarism, nature and hero sagas they somehow find a resolution in Attila's more openly pre-Christian world.
Songs are vital to the film and bardic tales link sections. This is a nice touch as the Nibelungenlied would originally have been orally transmitted by troubadours and poets in just such settings before being written down in the Middle Ages.
Unfortunately, the end of the film is its greatest weakness. Whilst showing the effect of Kriemhild's lust for revenge, the violence is shocking and gratuitous with revolting battle scenes. It does, however, effectively show how the Burgundians' militarism and so-called code of honour ironically leads to their destruction. As others have commented, in this way, Lang's film is subtly anti-military and also opposes the kind of ethos the Nazis would soon embrace.
Overall, this film is not quite as strong as its predecessor and potential viewers should be prepared for an horrific ending in which almost every major character dies in an orgy of shocking violence.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Canto 1: How Kriemhild Mourned Over Siegfried and How King Attila Woos
her Through his Ambassador Rüdiger von Bechlarn: Kriemhild (Margarete
Schön) insists on having the head of the killer of her beloved husband,
Hagen Tronje (Hans Adalbert Schlettow), but her brother, King Gunther
(Theodor Loos), refuses her request. When King Attila of the Huns woos
Kriemhild through his ambassador Rüdiger von Bechlar, she makes him
promise through oath in the name of his king that no man would ever
offend her. Hagen Tronje hides the Nibelungen treasure in the bottom of
Canto 2: How Kriemhild Takes Leave from her Homeland and How She Was Received by King Attila: Kriemhild brings some earth from where Siegfried died, and travels to the court of the Huns, where she is welcomed by Attila himself, who also promises through oath to defend her.
Canto 3: How King Attila Besieged Rome and How Kriemhild Summoned her Brothers: When Kriemhild delivers a baby boy, Attila returns to his realm and asks Kriemhild what she would like most to please her. She asks him to invite her brothers to come to his kingdom.
Canto 4: How Kriemhild Receives her Brothers: Kriemhild insists on having the head of Hagen Tronje, but her brothers keep loyalty to their friend and again do not accept her request.
Canto 5: How the Huns Celebrated the Summer Solstice With the Nibelungen: Kriemhild asks Attila to kill Hagen Tronje, but he refuses since in accordance with the laws of the desert, a guest is considered sacred. Kriemhild offers gold to the Hums for the head of Hagen Tronje. There is a fight, and Hagen Tronje kills Attila's son.
Canto 6: The Nibelungen's Distress: The Huns lose the battle against the Nibelungen, but keep them under siege inside Attila's castle. Kriemhild promises to spare their lives provided they deliver Hagen Tronje, but her brother Gunther tells that German people are loyal with their friends.
Canto 7: The Nibelungen's End: After the death of Rüdiger von Bechlarn, Giselher and Gernot, Hagen Tronje and Guhther are finally captured. Kriemhild kills Hagen Tronje, ending her revenge with the destruction of the Nibelungen.
The conclusion of the poetic saga of Siegfried through "Kriemhild's Revenge" is also told through seven dramatic cantos. The nature of the first part is a magnificent tale of fantasy, adventure, romance and betrayal; the second part is a dramatic story of hate, revenge and loyalty. The solid screenplay with a perfect development of the characters, the excellent performances of the cast and the awesome direction of Fritz Lang produced another epic ahead of time. Margarete Schön is impressive with a total different woman, obsessed and inflexible in her revenge wish. The costumes that Kriemhild wears are also very impressive, and her acting is based on her face and look. I was a little disappointed with the reaction of Attila after the death of his only son, since I found it too passive. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Os Nibelungos Parte II: A Vingança de Kriemshild" ("The Nibelungen Part II: Kriemhild's Revenge")
Impressive sets, costumes, and action highlight this 2 hour conclusion.
The surprisingly good restoration was available for both parts on
In some ways I suspect intentional and not, the movie subtext lays out the cultural flaws of the German/Austrian people following World War 1. The Burgundian oath upheld despite treachery and infanticide to the point of self destruction. An overwhelming need for revenge with no compromise or limit to the cost of obtaining it.
I imagine Fritz Lang and his co-writer wife sought to emphasize these faults following the war, which leads to the mutual destruction of the entire lot of Burgundy characters. Curiously the result ennobles both sides.
The non Germanic characters are grubby, disfigured, inferior animals. Only the extremes of pride, honor and infighting seem to hold the Germanic kingdom back. Within this subtext, one might see omens for the world that would be realized less than 15 years later.
The resulting film shares the same fault of its characters. Excessive pride, honor and nationalism despite the destruction and failure it had wrought. It is a vast epic and well made. But more importantly, a view of the cultural undercurrents that undermined the treaties from the war to end all wars.
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