Historical evocation of Ludwig, king of Bavaria, from his crowning in 1864 until his death in 1886, as a romantic hero. Fan of Richard Wagner, betrayed by him, in love with his cousin Elisabeth of Austria, abandonned by her, tormented by his homosexuality, he will little by little slip towards madness. Written by
Ludwig. He loved women. He loved men. He lived as controversially as he ruled. But he did not care what the world thought. He was the world. From Luchino Visconti, the director of "The Damned" and "Death in Venice". Once again your eyes will be opened.
"I Will Remain an Enigma - To the World and to Myself!"
This long and lavish biopic of the mad Mittel European monarch is both Luchino Visconti's grandest and - oddly enough - his most intimate and personal film. Visconti's autobiography in all but name, it tells the story of a cultured aristocrat who ruins himself through an obsessive love of art, luxury and handsome young men. The film paints King Ludwig as a well-meaning but hapless victim of his grasping courtiers, artists and lovers. If Visconti himself was an arch-manipulator and a bit of a sadist, well...Ludwig is one of those films where life and art never do quite match up.
Most revealing is its portrayal of the aging king's obsession with a pretty but none-too-talented actor, Joseph Kainz. It is tempting to view their romance as a mirror of Visconti's own passion for the exquisite Helmut Berger, who - a twist within a twist - actually stars as King Ludwig in this film. In the roles he played without Visconti as his Svengali, Berger is barely competent. In Ludwig (as in The Damned) he gives a staggering performance, ranging from fresh-faced idealism to homoerotic heartbreak to bloated waste.
Shot just after the collapse of Visconti's long-cherished film of Proust, Ludwig is rich in characters who reflect (whether consciously or not) the gilded Belle Epoque monsters that haunt the pages of A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. As the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, poor Ludwig's magnetic but manipulative cousin, Romy Schneider might just as well be playing the Duchesse de Guermantes. The opportunistic composer Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard) and his scheming wife Cosima (Silvana Mangano) stand in as the vulgar social-climbing Verdurins. The king himself is a kindred spirit of the Baron de Charlus - a doomed aesthete who refined tastes are at odds with his sordid love-life.
With its majestic cast and flawless photography and design, Ludwig has all the makings of a screen masterpiece. Alas, it falters badly in its last hour - which depicts the bourgeois conspiracy that topples Ludwig from his throne. Perhaps Visconti (who identified so closely with the mad monarch) could not face up to the waning of his own powers. He suffered a crippling stroke after finishing this film, and would never again attempt work on such a scale. Ludwig stands as a flawed testament - as a portrait of one enigma by another.
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