Friedrich Schiller, via the (former) German Democratic Republic
Adapting a stage play for the screen is by nature a risky enterprise. Most of them are failures. Viewers of "Kabale und Liebe" ("Love and Intrigue") won't be disappointed.
Otto Mellies is pretty convincing as the young, tragic, romantic hero. Karola Ebeling's performance as Luise could be criticized as weak and sappy, but that's precisely who she's supposed to be; a submissive, obedient only child in a small town patriarchal family over two centuries ago. Wolf Kaiser, who plays President von Walther, steals every scene he's in. When he invites himself into the Miller household, and proceeds to call Luise a whore and her Dad a pimp, he brings it off with a dismissive and convincing flourish. The scene where he smashes the mirror could easily have failed, but he brings it off. His secretary is aptly named "Worm": He's the classic parvenu, opportunistic yes-man of German literature, brilliantly depicted by novelist Heinrich Mann in "Der Untertan." Jens-Uwe Pape gives this potentially cardboard character impressive subtlety; he becomes The Man You Love To Hate. Willi Schwabe chatters von Kalb's lines like a frenchified caricature of aristocratic decadence. I didn't get this from reading the play, but I think Schwabe's long suit was comedy, anyway. Marion Van de Kamp is an exquisite Lady Milford: She makes her somewhat contrived hard luck story sound believable, and her scene with the jewels and the old servant is memorable. The small roles of the petty, rather stupid mother, and the eager-to-please maid are handled with competence and professionalism by Marianne Wuenscher and Christine Schwarze, respectively.
The only disappointment was Martin Hellberg as Miller. He overacts, raises his voice in the wrong places, and appears pretty unsympathetic. Maybe this is because he directed the movie, too. In any case, I thought his interpretation heavy-handed.
I wish I knew where this was filmed. It was done on location, somewhere, and the whole effect is tasteful, convincing, and moody. It doesn't have that Colonial Williamsburg look that so many films set in this period, both European and America, find it hard to avoid.
American audiences might find resonance in the scenes where the townspeople and farmers are dragged off to the army by press gangs. This was a growth industry in Germany at the time. It financed high-end lifestyles for the princes, some of whom got extra cash if their soldiers-of-misfortune got killed. That's what paid for Lady Milford's diamonds. Some of this unlucky cannon-fodder ended up fighting the American colonists when the British ran short of personnel: These were the Hessians, so called because most of them came from Hesse-Nassau. The contractor, Landgrave William IX, became one of the richest men in Europe, and gave Mayer Rothschild his start in the banking business.
This version of "Kabale und Liebe" was filmed in the former German Democratic Republic, better known to Americans as East Germany. Maybe this is why the class conflict themes in the play are written so large. And the scene where the shanghaied troopers are shot after their failed mutiny is pretty powerful.
By the way, this seems to have been the cinematic finale for most of the cast. With one or two exceptions, they seem to have dropped out of acting altogether, or removed permanently to the small screen to do cop shows.
I viewed this on a region free DVD-player. The disc had no subtitles. My German is far from perfect, so anyone who's familiar with the play, and who has a working knowledge of the language, will likely enjoy this film. And Schiller, who really endured a lot of humiliation, persecution, and worse, in the courts of German princes, would, I think, approve of Hellberg's version.
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