A long time-span of Austrian history (from the late 19th century to the years after world war II) is reflected in the ups and downs of a family of piano-makers in Vienna. Written by
Otto Oberhauser <Oberhauser@cc.univie.ac.at>
Insightful Post-War Gem about Changes Within People and Periods
From springs to autumns, from youthful enthusiasm to disillusions... the reality where the beginnings mark the inevitable ends and the ends mark new, unknown beginnings: such a prefabricated circle of life. Yet, some of the stories on the screen where we empathize with their protagonists might occur exceptionally vibrant, involving and timeless. Such is the case with DER ENGEL MIT DER POSAUNE, one of the quintessential productions, a milestone of Austrian post-war cinema.
Based on the novel by Ernst Lothar (1890-1974), a writer and a friend of Max Reinhardt, the movie relies on its unique saga-like content, challenging depiction of the long time span in the Austrian history and the true elite cast of different backgrounds. But foremost, it works as a conscience of historical moment when the tragic WWII ended and there was a cry for a fresh breath free from Nazi propaganda. The storyline marks the period of more than half a century and, practically, highlights CHANGES in both the political situation of the country and the story of the Alt Family, piano manufacturers notable in Vienna for generations.
1888, Franz Alt (Attila Hoerbiger) marries Henriette (Paula Wessely), a daughter of a Jewish professor. She easily wins the respect of other people, even the crown prince Rudolf who trusts her more than he could ever trust the closest members of his imperial family. He is the love of her life...yet, she makes a practical decision and marries Franz Alt. Lost chance or sheer destiny? Intense emotions step in at the wedding party - the mournful bells proclaim the tidings about Rudolf's death.
Yet, life must go on... and the newly married couple start to live on the fourth floor of Viennese house, a major setting of the story, a unique house marked by family's tradition and decorated by something special beyond its front door - A LITTLE ANGEL WITH A TRUMPET, a title character of the movie, a conscience of the times, who sees everything from his own perspective. By becoming the narrator in the film, he helps the viewers become the heartfelt and objective observers with some sympathies, some joys, some sorrows and reflections but a little distance, too. The angel is the representation of the supernatural presence in human stories and manifests the redemptive nature of music. He leads us closer and closer through the dramatically changing times to the unpredictable finale when everything seems to be destroyed in the ruins of war, all the beloved ones are gone; yet, in the midst of destruction, a new hope is born...
When referring to the idealistic lines and aspects of the plot, it is important to note certain characteristics of the movie. They purely rely on the post war spirit when cinema was aimed at restoring hope in viewers, hope in building a new reality from the disappointing history. Therefore, even those dramatic moments, those ruins where all seems to be lost are constantly accompanied by ever present CHANGE for better. That is best resembled in the unforgettable, open to interpretations, close-up of Hermann Alt (Oskar Werner) at the last 'meeting' with his mother---one of the most powerful moments ever grace the screen.
And this spirit is beautifully evoked in the performances from the cast. And here the main credit must be granted to Paula Wessely who gives a triumphant performance of her career as Henriette. That is acting with full commitment. She is absorbing as a half-Jewish character who suffers the difficulties of various times, she rivets us all in different stages of life that she portrays: from an inexperienced, enthusiastic young "Frauelein" (maid) to an elderly mother who has her memories as well as her sorrows for the future of her children. Ms Wessely is marvelous and truly unforgettable in her scenes that carry meaning and heart. Her sort of 'similar soul' is Maria Schell in the role of Selma Rosner, a pianist who marries Hans, one of Henriette's two sons. She gives a comforting performance, particularly at the famous scene when she is introduced to the Alts at the dawn of WWI in 1914. The pairing of the real life couple Paula Wessely and Attila Hoerbiger occurs most convincing later in the film as they are old and Franz writes a touching note to his wife: Forgive me that I have married you... Among the supporting cast, worth special attention are: Curd Juergens as illusive, deceptive, decadent aristocrat - count Poldo Traun, Helene Thimig as a strict and heartlessly conventional Gretel and Paul Hoerbiger as Otto, Franz's brother in love with the classical ideas in music and life. But the true contrast and insightful performance emerges from Hans Holt and Oskar Werner: two brothers that considerably differ from each other: one believes in true loyalty; the other is influenced by propaganda where 'For God, Emperor, Homeland' soon turns into 'Heil Hitler'. They are given some detailed moments that psychologically manifest their psyches. Although their roads differ, they meet....
The film can also boast of nice photography by Guenther Anders, in particular, the nice camera-work at juxtaposing images of newspapers tidings about WWI, some romantic shots, including a dreamlike moment of Henriette and Rudolf on a balcony; moving camera-work that draws parallels to viewers' perceptions highlighting the emotionally significant moments (consider Henriette's visit at the emperor Franz Josef and the shot of his office first while we hear his voice and after a few minutes see his face). The aesthetic merit of the film reaches its climax at the final moments that prompt reflections and impatience to burst into the overwhelming finale. The lovely piece by Beethoven's Op. 48 from "The Glory of God in Nature" that Selma plays loudly proclaims the angel's song and represents the true ideals being recaptured in new generations.
This film is a true gem of the Austrian cinema that does not escape to cheap sentimentalism nor to the kitschy clichés but can still touch and delight various viewers, even those discriminating ones.
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