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The second in a trilogy of movies about Elisabeth "Sissi" of Austria, the film chronicles the married life of the young empress as she tries to adjust to formal and strict life in the palace and an overbearing mother-in-law.
a curious mixture of social study, satire, romance and comedy
Another film with Romy Schneider at the cinema. The 35mm print looked like it had just been struck, with rich, vibrating colors and a clear depth of field a true delight. The film itself, a work of one of the better and more interesting German directors of its time is actually Austrian. I'm not familiar with Austrian film history at all, and I kept watching it, as though it was a film from West Germany. It did feel more frivolous though, more vulgar, and more direct in its depiction of sexuality, than I remembered from similar West German productions. But this may simply be due to Rolf Thiele, probably one of the big erotomaniacs of film history. Nevertheless I found the film not free-spirited at all. It isn't the total failure some Thiele-experts seem to take it for, but it also isn't much to be proud of. The problem is this: the film starts as a funny and open-minded depiction of a rather unconventional family of artists. The parents, still rather conservative, write (the father) and make music (the mother), the children are an artist (the youngest son), a painter (the youngest daughter) and a poet (Romy). The truly free spirits are the two youngest children. And Romy is caught somewhere in between. At the end of this slightly screwball-y comedy of manners, she marries the sleazy douchebag of an excuse for a male protagonist (or rather antagonist), and the old morals (marry and reproduce) are seemingly confirmed. Of course none of it is that easy in a Thiele film, and he manages to get in some totally bizarre and over the top imagery and situations but nowhere enough. His inventiveness shows in the sometimes nouvelle-vague-inspired camera-work and his formal playfulness, be it the editing or the phenomenal art direction. But still, the screenplay leaves the film a rather unfulfilling mess, which Thiele doesn't want (or isn't allowed) to make into a film of his won. The longer it goes on the more conventional it becomes. Thiele himself allegedly later apologized for the film, and said he was contractually obligated to make it.
Still, it is an interesting failure (or if you are a morally conservative person it may even be a success), and though I found it at times hideously repulsive in its inhibited eroticism and its constrained play with perversion (give me Tinto Brass anytime over such a hypocritical treatment), the film is a good depiction of its time and the way people thought and behaved and as I said, definitely not without its merits. Romy Schneider is at times enchanting, and the film is a delight to look at from start to finish. The film is a must if you are interested in the time period, are a fan of Romy Schneider, are a Rolf Thiele completist, or don't care about a films politics as long as its gorgeous to look at.
I'll spare you with the what if's (though I need to say this could have been a masterpiece had Thiele had a free reign). It's definitely one of its kind, a curious mixture of social study, satire, romance and comedy, and it definitely left a lasting impression even though much of it feels like a bitter taste in my mouth.
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