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.
After playing Elisabeth of Austria in the Sissi trilogy in the fifties, Romy Schneider made clear she didn't want to have anything to do with the Austrian empress anymore, claiming the character ruined her career as an actress because everyone subsequently wanted to see her in romantic roles. She only agreed to appear in Ludwig (1973) as a favor to Luchino Visconti who was a very good friend of hers. See more »
Masterful Journey Into Fairy Tale Eccentric's Mind
Being offered something common (no matter if it is a painting, a musical bit, a play or a movie) one can praise it, criticize it, evaluate it according to some standards. Yet, what happens if one encounters something elaborate, something that knows no limits of standardized conventions, something that follows no paths of shallow commonness?
This seems to be the case with a few pearls of artistic cinema, including LUDWIG (1972) by great aristocrat-director Luchino Visconti (1906-1975). As Visconti's most underrated work, this is the film that I have owned for 5 years, the film I have seen a considerable number of times; yet, the film I have found so hard to fully understand. Nevertheless, a rhetorical question seemed to help me in such a lack of understanding: is it possible to fully understand a human being, is it possible to fully understand oneself? The similar idea appears to be hidden in this film.
LUDWIG, as it is well known, tells the story of the 'eccentric' (for some) or 'fairy tale' (for others) king of Bavaria, Ludwig II (1845-1886) who is now famous mostly among tourists who visit the elaborate, almost dreamlike castles in the southern Land of Germany. While getting to know his psyche, we realize that Ludwig was an extraordinary psyche, someone filled with contradictions, absorbed in struggling for the sublime beauty, living seriously within the illusive walls of an unfulfilled reality. Meanwhile, Ludwig, with certain characteristics, appeared to be 'much ahead of his time.'
Visconti, having deeply analyzed the phenomenon of that man, not only develops these aspects but brings them back to life by means of three miracles on screen: flawless direction, breathtaking sets and talented cast.
Although some people may detest Mr Berger for some opinions expressed in public, we cannot deny the fact that the film owes much to him. Berger appears to give one of the most sublime performances in the leading role. He makes LUDWIG a genuine analysis, a must see for all movie buffs by portraying a unique, sophisticated man threatened by fears, filled with dense emotions, carnal pleasures, suffering from the quest for the blissful and illusive reality; an eccentric experiencing the storms of mind, an artist-dreamer gradually disillusioned by the mute world of contemporaries. How modern and, yet, how universal the character appears to be in his search for the individual world! All this is so well manifested that the viewer is not merely watching, being an observer of the character's hard states of mind: he/she is experiencing a slow, perhaps sometimes tedious, but exceptionally claustrophobic journey with the main character; yet not so much the journey of tear-jerking sweet compassion but something far more than this, something revealed in the self-reflection.
Berger and Visconti allow us to experience this journey into the mind of a human being that aims at being uncommon rather than decent. Gradually, we are led into the strange world of the king and, unexpectedly, into the unknown perceptions that we ourselves own. We get to know Ludwig as the feminine moon rather than the masculine sun. He is not ready to make love to women because his feelings occur to be the personally peculiar inventions of his mind. Therefore, he turns to homosexual pleasures being, in this way, a reflection of Visconti himself. Extraordinary images of lavish elegance, subtle imagination throughout the film besides the aforementioned Berger's exceptional talent and Visconti's excellent direction help us in this journey.
When we consider other performances, Romy Schneider seems to be the other 'treasure' of the film...not as beautiful yet saccharine Sissi but as delicious, disillusioned, mature Empress Elizabeth. Her strongest point here is the cold attractiveness. She is the absolute female beauty, the 'dove' Ludwig is impressed by; yet, a woman he finally does not let into his castle. Although I very much appreciate her role in Marischka's SISSI trilogy (1955, 1956, 1957), I must admit that here, at last, under the direction of great maestro whom she highly respected, Romy was able to interpret Elizabeth in the accurate manner. She perfectly portrays a very independent yet contradictory character who is already aware of the fact that history forgets us and the bitter conclusion that the world does not care. Her appearances in the movie are astounding including her looks, her acting and her wardrobe, mostly black which is inspired by the later photos of the Kaiserin Von Oesterreich.
The great performances are also given by the supporting cast, in particular Trevor Howard as king Ludwig's idol-composer Richard Wagner with his destructive manners, extravagant nature yet powerful illusion resembled in 'a figure' so much glorified and appreciated within the mind of the king. I also liked Silvana Mangano as Cosima, Wagner's wife whom he offers an unusual Christmas gift in the memorable scene...
However, it would be highly unjust to claim that only performance make the movie an elaborate cinematic production. It is much more, it is foremost VISCONTI, his unique style focused on single important details and the entire psychology of the character's development. Besides, it is the clever script and authentic sets including Neuschweistein Castle, Herrenchiemsee, Bad Ischl, etc. It is, finally, the musical score that appears to be beautifully fitted within particular scenes that one cannot omit. Therefore, any shortened version does not make sense at all as Wolfram Schütte nicely put it (1975) referring to omissions: "Who has seen the film in Germany has, in fact, never seen it."
Highly recommended movie and a must DVD release! 9/10
"Du Warst Ein Maerchenkoenig, Die Freiheit Das War Dein Tron...Koenig Ludwig, Wir Vergessen Dich Nicht" (you were a fairy tale king and freedom was your throne...king Ludwig, we won't forget you). So says a German 'Lied' (song) by singer Bianca. Utopian as it may seem, isn't that, after all, something we really don't forget?
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