Henny Porten, who was *the* German film star of the 1910s, is typically defined today by roles that were steeped in classic melodrama, suffering, and noble angst. Here, in this delightful film from 1918, she proves that she was also an effective comedienne. DIE HEIMKEHR DES ODYSSEUS ("The Homecoming of Odysseus") takes as its inspiration the famous Penelope episode from Homer's /Odyssey/ and transplants it to the present-day Bavarian Alps.
The story begins with a prologue, as the wedding day of Josepha (Henny Porten) and Hansl (Bruno Decarli) is eagerly anticipated by all. Hansl, however, without telling anyone, decides to go climb a mountain, thus delaying the wedding and causing Josepha much embarrassment. When Hansl finally returns to the village (with a bouquet of Edelweiss in tow), Josepha is fuming mad, and after the ceremony she tells him off. He leaves in a huff, before the marriage can be consummated. Ten years pass, and Hansl has never returned to the village. Josepha is the proprietress of the inn, and must endure the blatant come-ons of all the single men on the mountain. They insist she forget about Hansl and marry one of them. Josepha is a feisty woman, though, given to pulling pranks on her potential suitors, all of whom she finds distasteful. She dreams that her true love will one day return to her. Meanwhile, a bearded stranger pops up at various times and in various places, with a definite interest in Josepha...
Although the situations in this film are played as comedy, the echo of real-life circumstances surrounding men missing in action or held in prisoner-of-war camps during World War I surely resonated with audiences. Josepha, who must fend for herself in the absence of her husband, yet who always remains faithful to him, can be seen as a kind of model for contemporary women, encouraging them to follow her example.
The dialogue in this film appears as Bavarian dialect in the intertitles. In addition to the "locals," there is also an interloper who appears -- Alois Buttermilch (Arthur Bergen), who speaks in the Berlin dialect. This is a thoroughly enjoyable picture, well-paced, clear (if somewhat stereotypical) characterizations, and fine performances from the cast. Director Rudolf Biebrach even appears in the film as, oddly enough, the Man in the Moon.
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