Ludwig: The Mad King of Bavaria / Ludwig II / Kudwig - Le Crépuscule des Dieux
Italy / France / West Germany 1973
Ugo Santalucia, Dieter Geissler, Robert Gordon Edwards (executive) for Mega Film, Cinétel, Dieter Geissler Filmproduktion, Divina-Film
directed by Luchino Visconti
starring Helmut Berger, Trevor Howard, Romy Schneider, Silvana Mangano, Gert Fröbe, Helmut Griem, Izabella Telezynska, Umberto Orsini, John Moulder-Brown, Sonia Petrovna, Folker Bohnet, Heinz Moog, Adriana Asti, Marc Porel, Nora Ricci, Mark Burns, Maurizio Bonuglia, Alexander Allerson, Bert Bloch, Manfred Fürst, Kurt Grosskurth, Anne-Marie Hanschke, Gérard Herter, Ian Linhart, Carla Mancini, Gernot Möhner, Clara Moustawcesky, Alain Naya, Alessandro Perrella, Karl-Heinz Peters, Wolfram Schaerf, Henning Schlüter, Helmut Stern, Eva Axén (as Eva Tavazzi), Louise Vincent, Alexander Stephan (as Gunnar Warner), Karl-Heinz Windhorst, Raika Juri
written by Luchino Visconti, Enrico Medioli, Suso Cecchi D'Amico (collaboration)
Ludwig II of Bavaria, Sissi, Sissi (Romy Schneider), Richard Wagner
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Bavaria, 1864: Ludwig (Helmut Berger) is a mere 18 years old when he's
crowned King of Bavaria ... and frankly, he couldn't be less interested in
the affairs of state as all his attentions is directed towards building
the perfect opera house for Richard Wagner (Trevor Howard), whose music he
not only adores but who has also become a father figure to him.
though, Ludwig meets his cousin Sissi (Romy Schneider, reprising her role
from the Austrian Sissi films from the 1950s), who had shared a similar
fate some 10 years earlier, being married to the Emperor of Austria at age
16. The two of them bet along from the start, and share many interests,
and Ludwig starts to have tender feelings for her.
But Ludwig's world is
soon shattered when Wagner is unmasked as a profiteer and chased out of
Munich, Sissi was obviously using their relationship only to warm Ludwig
up to her sister Sophie (Sonia Petrovna), whom she wants him to marry, and
even his little brother Otto (John Moulder-Brown) turns away from him
after returning shell-shocked from a war the Bavarian Kingdom has entered
that Ludwig now refuses to recognize.
Trying to pick up the pieces
again, Ludwig announces he'll marry Sophie, but that does little to get
him back together with Sissi, and the more time he spends with Sophie the
less he feels for her - and it isn't before long that he notices he's
actually more drawn to men than women.
Eventually, Ludwig resolves his
engagement to Sophie and starts working on madder and madder and
increasingly more decadent schemes, like building over-the-top castles
nobody's ever going to live in, while chasing after actors who have taken
his fancy, and forcing them to remain in character throughout. This of
course drains the state's finances, to a point where he's seen as a weak
leader on the outside who has to give in to demands of the German Empire -
but the Bavarian parliament supports him in all his fancies to keep him
away from actually gouverning ... until they decide to drop him, and to
have him declared insane and thus abdicate the throne. But Ludwig isn't
one to go down that easily ...
Ludwig is pretty
much the historical drama that gets it right, as the film doesn't
drown its actually story in much pomp, lavish sets and props, setpieces
that deliver little but pretty pictures, and a general approach bound to
paint history in a nostalgic light. Now that isn't to say that Ludwig
does not have its great sets and props, but they serve the purpose to
carry the story, and its setpieces are of a much more intimate nature, as
this isn't a tale of greatness or cold biography but a psychogram of the
high rise and deep fall of its titular hero, that takes its time (four
hours in the original version) to detail its story, but a great subtle yet
compelling directorial effort and a top notch cast delivering their A-game
make it really worth your while.
Basically, a masterpiece!