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"The legendary Rheingold-Express (Rhine Gold) was a famous train riding between Hoek van Holland near Rotterdam and Basel, Switzerland, a distance of 662 km. It drove along the Rhine River via Arnhem, Netherlands and Cologne, Germany had special luxury coaches. It was named after Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold opera, which romanticized the Rhine (from wikipedia)."
This film is as much the sad tale of a fatal love affair as it is a very effective feature-length commercial of the Rheingold train and the romantic German landscape of castles and rocky hills near the banks of the Rhine river.
Elisabeth is a rich woman in her late thirties. Since Elisabeth has traveled on more occasions with the Rheingold, one day she recognized her former sweetheart from elementary school, now working as an attendant aboard the train. Unhappy with her marriage, Elisabeth started an affair with the attendant.
At the start of the film, Elisabeth is breaking up with her husband. Lost for words, her husbands stabs her in a fit of rage with the letter opener Elisabeth just gave him as a farewell present. The husband flees from the train, leaving Elisabeth unhurt or so it seems.
Shortly after the train has started its voyage, she finds out she has a wound in her abdominal section. Instead of alerting attendants and ask for emergency assistance, Elisabeth acts as if nothing has happened. When she meets with her lover, the attendant, she tells him of her breaking up with her husband, at which her lover says he's very happy.
As the train progresses on its journey through the romantic German Rhine landscape, Elisabeth has flash-backs as she remembers happier days with her husband, meeting up with her old childhood love and a memorable scene when both her lover and she were still kids. Possibly the other flash-back scenes that don't involve the Rheingold train were shot in the direct vicinity of the train route. If that's the case then the movie also doubles for a rather effective commercial for Rhine tourism. That said, all of the photography is of remarkable quality and the direction is also second to none.
The director maximizes his efforts by having the husband, filled with remorse, charter a taxi cab and order the chauffeur to chase the Rheingold! This was way before computer editing so the scenes are very effective and shows the director's great skill: in one scene, in a continuous shot, the husband is arguing with the cab-driver as they are driving through Germany. The driver turns his head to the left, points to the train that has appeared in view and says, "there she is!" Just bear in mind how much organizational skills and plain talent a director needs to complete such a shot either in one take or with extreme patience in multiple takes, until he ends up with the perfect, continuous shot. After a failed take, they would have to wait for the next train (with the characteristics of the Rheingold) to appear in view.
As the train gets closer to its destination, Elisabeth's wound keeps getting worse while none of the other passengers in her cabin noticing anything strange. They are much too caught up in their own life and musings to see that anything's the matter with Elisabeth. It is the last passenger she meets, after having changed cabins, who remarks she is looking rather pale and not at all well.
The viewer will wonder why Elisabeth never alerted anyone to her critical condition but then if she had, this beautiful film would never have been made.
"Operation of the Rheingold TEE (Trans Europe Express) ended on May 30, 1987 after 59 years and 15 days. The TEE 14 was pulled by a BR 103 (wikipedia)."
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