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Friday, July 15, 2011

Movies of the Week... The Sissi Trilogy

If you've ever heard the true and sad story of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, you might be surprised to find the Sissi films, a trilogy of brightly colored, beautifully costumed pictures from the mid-1950's.  These three pictures capture the life of the Empress from just before she met Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of fifteen, until her triumphant visit to Austria's protectorates in Italy.  They also demonstrate the powerful role Sissi played in securing the relationship between Austria and Hungary, culminating in the dazzling coronation of the newly titled King and Queen of Hungary in Budapest.

Historically, the series will surprise some with the depiction of the early married life of the Emperor and Empress.  Rather than the depressed, turgid Elizabeth that she later became, Sissi was, in fact, deeply in love with her husband when they married.  It was only later that the melancholy, the martyr complex and the endless travel to find some sort of happiness occurred.  There is no hint of that Sissi in these films.  Rather, we see a girlish, joyful and sometimes jealous girl who wants assurance that her husband is, indeed, in love with her.

The downsides of the series are relatively few.  Entirely in German, the English subtitles can be diverting.  But, one also gets a better sense of the story when it is delivered in it's original language.  Also, certain characters, particularly an aide to Sissi, are overly comical, and can seem incongruous at times.

Regardless of the story line and dialogue, the Sissi films are beautiful to look at.  The mid-fifties color is rich and vibrant, the costumes are beyond dazzling and the locations are genuine - filmed at many of the real locations in Vienna and other arts of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.  Perhaps most dazzling are the Emperor and Empress's triumphal entrance into Venice in a parade of enormous gondolas, festooned for the occasion.  This is the culmination of the series.

Elizabeth of Austria
a famous portrait by
Franz Winterhalter

The three movies in the Sissi trilogy include Sissi, Sissi:  The Young Empress and Sissi:  The Fateful Years of an Empress.  All of these films are available through Netflix, and the trilogy can be bought in the Dapper and Dreamy Bookshop  One word of advice...  Avoid at all costs the 1962 Forever My Love, a heavily edited combination of all three films, horribly dubbed in English with a painful theme song.

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