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Rudolf is a good-natured pan-sexual golden boy, who cavorts on his rural estate with a host of beautiful, aristocratic lovers and friends of both sexes. He refuses to leave his country idyll even though he has been ordered to by the Emperor, his father. Written by
For many, this film is pure pornography with a lot of pretension.
But, for some -'in the know'- it is a historical allegory reinterpreting the real-life "Mayerling affair," in which the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolph and his mistress, the Baroness Maria Vetsera, committed suicide at the family hunting lodge, Mayerling, because they were not allowed to marry. The official records of the deaths were long hidden, then destroyed and the public's imagination was captured for decades to come with the mysteries surrounding the love/political affairs of the ruling society.
The film director Jancsó, having long artistic controversies of his own, suggests that contrary to this official version, the lovers were indeed assassinated by his father, Emperor Franz Josef. Rudolph and his friends were in direct opposition with the world of the Emperor on many issues and used plots to convince him that his time was past, and that it was now the moment to allow the Young&New to rise to power. Some of those plots consisted of attracting the youth of the best families in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to their castle involving them in giant orgies. Photographs were taken during these orgies and sent to the Emperor, in order to blackmail him and convince him to let the new order rule (?!). After the soldiers -led by the Austrian secret police- shot the couple, their corpses were arranged suggesting a romantic suicide pact-to avoid scandal or radical overthrow of a society obsessed with image.
In this movie, Jancsó is inventing a 'real story' in order of translating the complexities of the realities of repression and freedom into images. In it he replaces a romantic cliché with a modern politicized take on a particularly tormented historical period, but his visual language's coding brings forth the controversy that rendered this piece of his art to obscurity. The explicit use of nudity and erotic encounters of all kinds seems to be concealing the message of aspiring political freedom from an initial and superficial glance. The use of nudity is a recurrent visual element in Jancsó's art, but, while in his earlier works it was a symbol of humiliation, now it is a sign of liberation and he goes much farther than that. The mix of both sexes in wild celebration of nakedness and sex in a state of joy and ecstasy is an expression of rebellion and free will. This is in contrast with the attitudes of those in power, who seem to want to cover every inch of flesh with as many layers as possible and every act of life with prude social contacts ('In MY family, we do not have sex!'). This revolution replaces the unnatural uniforms of the army and clergy with natural uniformity of the nakedness of all-beautiful young bodies, and the highly coded social behavior with spontaneous sexuality. This alone indeed, often places the unprepared spectator at certain unease.
Due to contractual terms, Jancsó enjoyed less than usual artistic freedom that shows up as discontinuity with both, his previous and later works when it comes to editing, using of music and photography. Despite these minor artistic flaws, the film remains a powerful work, reflecting on youth movements that attempted revolutions in the 60s and 70s' Western World, bearing signs of knowing what they did not want-but being not sure of what to replace them with. Jancsó proves himself to be a lucid analyst not only of history but also of modern society. The young in this film are mistaken by hoping to make their voices heard, as silence and conformance with the social order is to be maintained by those in power - regardless the arbitrary nature of this order. One can argue that the mock-rituals of the Crown Prince are as legitimate as the Imperial etiquette, but a revolution without proper preparation is doomed to failure.
In summary, 'Vizi privati, pubbliche virtú' is a sorrowful meditation on the limits of a revolution that failed to come to life, not a pretentious porno flick - as an unperceptive observant would judge it to be. The question is ours now to answer: 'Is our society -and we ourselves- are so far removed from the puritanical world of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef and his obsessively clean image? '
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