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 ...
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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.
Romy Schneider only agreed to reprise the trademark role of her youth as Empress Elisabeth of Austria if the role would avoid all the usual clichés associated with the character and she would be allowed to portray Elisabeth as the cynical and disillusioned woman Elisabeth was known to be historically, though she did concede to put famous diamond decorations in her hair for one short scene. See more »
From the start of the film when Ludwig, the newly crowned King of Bavaria, is shown in his youth, it's made clear by the narration that he will go mad and eventually be interned for his own safety. From the start this circumstance hangs melancholically over the film.
Romy Schneider made a career out of playing unobtainable women, but here, as Elisabeth/Sissi, Empress of Austria, she may as well be ensconced in a quartz grotto at the top of the Himalayas, surrounded by precipice and acres of stone for all the chance Ludwig has of winning her. Perhaps that is how Ludwig imagines her when he sleeps at night. Sissi hates to be taken for granted, she avoids family get-togethers and official engagements, and makes her presence always a cherished unannounced surprise. She speaks loosely of sexual encounters with her grooms whilst encouraging a certain intimacy yet always maintains a distance from serious discourse or lovemaking. She is the worst nightmare of every man. Ludwig is stretched out on tenterhooks. The introductory scene is my favourite, Sissi playing dressage in a circus ring, delighting in the control of her horse, her face lost amongst pastel lights, a part of her life that encapsulates the whole of her life.
Ludwig's relations, or lack of relations with women during the film is crushingly sad. It seems finally a bewilderment with them that leads him into the arms of beings he can understand - men. Stricken and alone, finally he even refuses to meet Sissi, for once come not to tease, and it made my heart break.
With a government content to do without him, Ludwig withdraws into a fantasia of his own, rejecting materialism, seeking to live beyond bestial factuality, to transcend via the golden barque of the arts. Alongside several architectural commissions, he also became a stream of golden coins, flowing into the coffers of Richard Wagner, who he set up in a house of unbelievable opulence, and provided finance to for the building of the great opera house at Bayreuth, and the staging of several operas. The scenes with Wagner become almost a film within a film, although Ludwig appears the more extraordinary, if only via an accident of birth.
I was au fait with both the idea and the execution of Italian dialogue in the mouths of Germans, however I was uneasy going into this movie that it would feel Italian. Luckily Visconti does manage to keep an authentic feel, though one notable lapse for me is Count von Holnstein, who the credits confirmed to me was played by an Italian, Umberto Orsini. Holnstein is the minister who was largely responsible for orchestrating the downfall of Ludwig. In this movie Orsini's manner of speaking, his delivery and facial expressions are quintessentially Italian, even his lines have all the pomposity and false sincerity that Italian officialdom can muster. Only a quibble in a film that I felt like I was living.
Quite an astounding experience.
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