Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ludwig (Luchino Visconti, 1972)

Luchino Visconti was quite masterful at melodramatic period pieces, and Ludwig is no exception. It is the story of Ludwig II of Bavaria's 22 year reign, his obsession with composer Richard Wagner, his homosexuality, and the government's attempts to depose him. Ludwig is portrayed wonderfully by Visconti's lover, Helmut Berger.

Berger, who is typically known for tantrum fueled portrayals, perhaps most famously in The Damned (Visconti, 1969) and Salon Kitty (Tinto Brass, 1976) is predominantly subdued here as a young, disinterested prince who becomes a rapidly aging disinterested king. The film weighs in at 235 minutes (just under four hours) but does not drag, and is a visual feast. The movie is sad, but for me not a weepy kind of sad. The melodrama is quite high at times, which is typical of Visconti, and can seem like a really well acted soap opera, but it is not cheesy.

Most of what I found enjoyable was the creation of mood. Berger is in rare form, being allowed to be what I call a "face actor" quite a bit. He is often silent, but is very expressive. There is a scene where Ludwig meets a prospective paramour, actor Joseph Kainz (Folker Bohnet) in one of his many castles, and begins to feed the swans. Neither Ludwig or Kainz seems to know what to do, and the uncomfortable nature of the meeting is clearly related to the viewer.

The part of the film I felt was handled... perhaps clumsily?.. was the realization that Ludwig was a homosexual. At first, he is madly in love with his married cousin (not uncommon for royalty). Obviously, she is not a suitable spouse (being married), and presumably in Ludwig's best interests shun him and tries to find an alternative in her sister Sophie. Once Ludwig decides to marry, everyone is like "but isn't he... you know?" When we have what might have been his first homosexual encounter (which is in no way made clear) he freaks out and becomes religious. After that it gets a little easier. He and his new groom are at a secluded cottage, and Ludwig goes full-on gay. This is also not portrayed, but he was setting off gaydar as far away as Indonesia. Then they kind of leave the whole thing alone. Which is good, as the story is not about his homosexuality as his driving force, but rather as a facet of his person and the person he wants to be.

Towards the end, things start getting a little logistically zany. Even with four hours, you are covering twenty-two years of history. Eventually you notice you have to put on the breaks and tie everything up. This is a common problem in film, at least in my perception; therefore it may just be me?

Bottom line: Berger fans should love this, despite the lack of tantrums. If you like period pieces... well, maybe. It is definitely a period piece, but not as sappy as many contemporary entries. Fans of cinematography will be delighted. Veteran cinematographer, Armando Nannuzzi, does a lovely job, and the locations and sets are rather stunning.

You may wish to view Tenebrous Kate's review for a more knowledgeable look at the film.

No comments:

Post a Comment