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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw "Hilde" while I was visiting Cologne and I was very impressed by
the film. "Hilde" portrays Hildegard Knef's career from her beginnings
as a starlet at the UFA film studios in Berlin during World War II to
1965, the start of her career as a singer of chansons. Heike Makatsch
received glowing reviews for her performance as Hildegard Knef, and the
reviews are very well deserved. Her acting is admirable and her
renditions of Knef's songs are remarkable, full of the flavor of Knef's
voice and personality.
"Hilde" is a long film but it is engrossing and rich in detail. While revealing how Knef became one of Germany's greatest stars, it also reveals a great deal about what it was like to live in her native country in the last days of the War, the post-War years and the Cold War, showing the defense of Berlin against the invading Russians, life in the city while it was under the control of the American and Allied armed forces, and how citizens of West Berlin were affected by the building of the Wall in 1961. The production shows unrestrainedly how the city changes from barricades to bombed ruins to a Modern architectured metropolis divided by the Wall. The depictions of England and Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s are also vivid, despite being shot elsewhere (in South Africa, I believe).
Other members of the cast are also outstanding. Dan Stevens is moving as Hildegard Knef's second husband, British actor David Cameron, and he spends most of the film speaking German confidently. When he first appeared and started speaking in English I was knocked out by his plummy RADA accent. I don't know if the real David Cameron spoke that way but it's appropriate for the period. (By the way, the current leader of the Conservative Party here in the UK is named David Cameron). Trystan Wyn Puetter is affecting as Knef's first husband, Kurt Hirsch, a Jewish Czech who became an American army officer after emigrating to the States. Roger Cicero is excellent in his acting debut. His performance is as natural as his singing and piano playing.
However, the film is weakened by the scenes that take place in Hollywood. The sequences showing Knef's struggles with the American studios are unconvincing and thin. The portrayal of David O. Selznick is too much a stereotype of the old type Hollywood producer, complete with constantly ringing phones, a roving eye and a slight Lower East Side accent. "Hilde" takes a bold approach by concentrating on the development of Knef as a actress and the birth of her career as a singer. Yet the film skips over Knef's Broadway triumph in 1955 as the leading lady in the Cole Porter musical "Silk Stockings": it is only alluded to in a newspaper headline. The film dramatises Knef's stress about appearing in the West Berlin concert halls as a singer by several scenes of her lying prone on a table, trying to deal with her nerves- I would have liked to see how Knef felt about singing in English live to American audiences. I would have liked to know more about her first marriage to Hirsch, who had lost half of his relatives during the Holocaust. I would also liked to know more about Knef's first lover, Reich film official Ewald von Demandowsky. The movie indicates that the Russians execute him after he is taken prisoner, but it isn't clear why or when this takes place. I had to ask some of my friends about what happened to him. Apparently, there is a large controversy about whether Knef saw von Demandowsky after the German surrender.
Overall, the film has a great deal to offer fans of Knef and people who are curious to know more about her and what made her so popular in Germany and around the world. I wish more time was spent on her American career, and the Hollywood scenes were better scripted.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hildegard Knef (19252002) was many things Broadway star, songstress,
screen diva, international icon and bestselling author. In this
compelling biography Heike Makatsch gives a knockout performance as
Knef, who walked out of the rubble of post-war Berlin and embarked on a
career so amazing it could only be true. Infamous for appearing in the
first nude scene in German cinema (in "Die Sünderin", 1951) and called
'the best singer without a voice' by Ella Fitzgerald, Knef's adventures
in Hollywood, on Broadway and back home in her beloved Germany is the
stuff of showbiz legend.
So reads the blurb for the 2009 Audi German Film Festival and about 200 to 300 of us were lucky enough last night to attend 1 of 2 screenings in Melbourne of the "version originale" as the French would say.. original German language with English sub titles. Before the 8.15pm performance the cinema foyer was fairly buzzing and alive with a very good vibe as keen German film fans, some German by birth queued up for the 8:15pm session.
This is a bio pic or is it a bio epic painted with a very broad and polished brush starting out where we find Hilde caught up in WW2 as a budding actress in war torn Berlin. It's here she meets characters like her early directors and the lady from the acting school who are in her life for many years to come. From the early 1940s the film takes us through her life and career, relationships, a time in Hollywood for the next 40 years up until about 1970. At the close of the film other later facets and highlights of Hilde's life are covered by text before the closing credits.
Hers is a very full and interesting life and surely lead actress Heike Makatash was born to play this role. Without the need to physically transform like Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, Heike is truly luminous here. I was going to say initially Heike was a little like Angelina Jolie physically except with a lot more warmth and perhaps a stronger looking body (and one to die in some scenes) But as one comment here in the boards states Heike looks very much like Jeri Ryan http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005394/ whose around the same age and born in Munich.
Production values and the quality of the screenplay here are first class. It's intelligent, well written and covers a multitude of themes. Too many perhaps to fully absorb in a single viewing. At 136 minutes it's not a short film and perhaps like a lot of modern films (Australia comes to mind) a short intermission would have help. Perhaps the point for such a break would have been at the conclusion of WW2.
But truly we have a top quality performance here and film making, sets and locations and recreations of the period of a very high degree and quality. Not being familiar with the real Hilde it's difficult to say how close Heike got so the question may remain was it the actress who appealed, the character she played or both. At this stage lets stay both. Once again whether Heike did the vocals I'm not sure. Mention should be made of her early male piano/vocal accompanist.. some very nice duo and solo work here.
(Postscript - taking a quick look online after writing this review the resemblance to the real Hilde is remarkable. The real Hildes vocals seem somewhat more husky than in the film. The real Hilde was a stunning beauty in some of the black and white stillshots I found online)
Digressing France have done Piaf (1916-1953), German have done Hilde proud (1925-2002). Can someone in France please do the same for the late great Yvonne Printemps (1894-1977) to complete the trio. To quote the NY (New York) mag "Printemps was one of France's great vocal originals, who flourished in the music hall, operetta, film, and, apparently, the bedroom during the first half of the last century. Her singular voice, seductive presence, piquant style, and sheer joy of performing can still be relished on CD reissues and in several movieswatch Les Trois Valses of 1938 and try to resist her". Hear, hear!
French actress Catherine Frot would be my pick to perhaps play Printemps in her 50s.
Meantime I hope Hilde gets a wide distribution so the good work of Heike, the other actors and the production team can be fully appreciated by a wider audience for this flagship German film production.
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