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A dramatic retelling of the life of Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, one of the most fascinating monarchs of modern times. From his accession to the throne at the age of 18 to his passionate ... See full summary »
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 »
In this last part of his German trilogy, Visconti delves the most into the human psyche, and in particular it's contradictory forces within. On one hand the self-destructive urge for physical pleasure, on the other the spiritual search for the sublime. The Dionysean and the Apollonian. Body and soul.
Ludwig II, aka the "mad" king of Bavaria, is dragged to the limits by these two opposite forces. Losing focus on a vulgar reality, he surrenders to sexual perversion and yet also to a search for artistic purity, eventually leading him to madness, and finally to death. Trying in vein to find the sublime and eternal kingdom of the literary heroes he craves for, his behavior becomes more and more erratic until he is violently dethroned (a recurring theme in Visconti's work: the fall of aristocracy and the rise of bourgeois democracy).
Visconti directs this paradox with a highly elegant style, influenced by the romanticism of painters like Caspar David Friedrich and Frederic Edwin Church. The movie reaches a climax at around the third hour, when Ludwig and his protégé Joseph Kainz travel together through the endless frozen night, so that Ludwig shows Kainz his "real kingdom, the mountains under the moonlight, a world for ourselves, pure and uncontaminated". "Think about your soul, not about your body" Ludwig tells him. This a last hurrah. After Kainz's rejection, Ludwig declines further in decay and resignation.
The events depicting the conspiracy that dethrones him are grotesquely-staged and almost out of sync, emphasizing Ludwig's confusion and ill mental-state. Knowing his downfall is near, he confesses to one of the staff how he believes in the immortality of the soul and God's justice. "I've read many things about materialism", he says, "but it will never satisfy a man, cause he doesn't want to be put in the same level as beasts". That's a rare confession for Visconti.
After he is captured, the film once again alters in style, to a kind of austere chamber-cinema with a funereal feel. Near the end (and his death), Ludwig says to psychiatrist professor Gudden: "There is nothing more beautiful and fascinating than the night. They say the cult of the night, of the moon, is a maternal cult. The cult of sun, of daytime, is a masculine myth, therefore paternal. However the mystery, the greatness of night, for me lie in the infinite sublime kingdom of the heroes, which is also the kingdom of reason. Poor Dr. Gudden, you are forced to study me from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn. But I am an enigma, and I want to be an enigma forever, for the world and for myself".
Just like man. Sublime.
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