Monday, January 31, 2011

Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress (1957)

Sissi–Schicksalsjahre einer Kaiserin is the final saga of the trilogy directed by Ernst Marischka about the early years of the marriage of Franf Joseph of Austria and his beloved empress, Elizabeth of Bavaria, known as "Sissi." Romy Schneider's Elizabeth is an enchanting as ever, and Romy's mother Magda Schneider's portrayal of Elizabeth's mother Duchess Ludovika is equally charming. In Fateful Years, however, drama parts company with history more than in the other films. The traumatic death of the oldest child is not shown or even alluded to and yet it was the event which pushed Elizabeth over the edge. I did not find out until later from reading articles on the internet that the baby shown is supposed to be Archduchess Gisela, the imperial couple's second child. And I thought that Karlheinz Böhm's Franz Joseph should have been given the emperor's famous whiskers by that point in the story.

Nevertheless, Fateful Years captures the glamor as well as the frustration of the Empress' youthful life, as did the other two films. Sissi's childlike manner, both wise and vulnerable, captures the hearts of all who meet her, including the most anti-Austrian Hungarian rebels. There are foreshadowings of the sorrows to come, as when Sissi playfully permits a Gypsy woman to read her palm, and as she walks away the Gypsy looks after her in horror, saying "that poor woman." As her relationship with her husband becomes increasingly strained, Sissi withdraws into her own world in which she finds interests to combat a growing depression. Her love of riding and hunting and her fascination with ancient Greece are shown in the film. However, the impression is given that Sissi was able to take charge of her own children but that did not happen until Archduchess Valerie was born.

In spite of the historical lapses of the film, its beauty still makes me wish for a fourth installment, but actress Romy Schneider would not do it. She later said: "Sissi sticks to me like oatmeal."



(Images)
Share

20 comments:

Julygirl said...

Relating the true events in the personal lives of the two monarchs, such as the death of their child, would have helped viewers of this film understand the angst suffered by Sissi and how it brought about her resulting troubling behavior.

Matterhorn said...

Sadly, Elisabeth was not very nice to her own daughter-in-law, Stephanie of Belgium, who also came very young and unprepared to the imperial court. One would think that knowing the pain a difficult mother-in-law can cause would have inspired her to be kinder in this regard.

Coronel Kurtz said...

Thank you very much for your review of the three films.

Have you seen the Italo-Austrian miniserie "Sisi" directed by Xaver Schwarzenberger? I have not yet, but they said it is better.

elena maria vidal said...

No, I have not but I will look for it!

Leonard Greco said...

Hello,
As always thank you.
I hope you don't mind but I nominated Tea@Trianon for the Stylish Blogger Award, if you check my site you will see the details. If it is too tedious I understand perfectly; i love your site and wanted to spread the joy!
LG@babylonbaroque

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Leonard! I appreciate it!!

Leslie Carroll said...

I watched this movie when I was working on my nonfiction title NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, as I have a chapter on Sisi and Franz Joseph and I revisited the family again in ROYAL PAINS with a chapter on the sad life of Archduke Rudolf. Sadly, Sisi was a very unhappy woman. She was essentially a romantic teenager, but a sexually frigid woman whose husband's ardor and passion for her both repulsed and frightened her. She was beautiful but self-absorbed and was in fact a terrible mother and she has been highly romanticized by the Austrians and the Hungarians. She was also an early sufferer of anorexia (or perhaps bulimia) -- all part of being an emotionally disturbed woman.

I read extensively on her life and the more you know the more it is hard to lionize her. Perhaps if she'd gotten psychological counseling it might have mitigated some of her problems, but she was a Wittelsbach, from the same line as the mentally ill Ludwig II of Bavaria and there were other mentally ill family members, so it is possible that she was unwell in some way mentally, though for the most part functioning, which accounted for some of her inability to cope.

Leslie Carroll said...

A P.S. to Julygirl: Sisi was a neurotic mess years before she lost her little girl (her daughter Sophie) and years before Archduke Rudolf's suicide. But the tragic deaths of her children certainly didn't help! She also had a domineering mother-in-law and at some point her doting husband may have given her a venereal disease. But she STILL was a mental case before then. She had a peripatetic nature from the getgo, hated sex, and only wanted to be adored. She had personal rituals that included washing her knee-length hair (at one point her mother-in-law scolded her for spending more time tending to her hair than her children) and she had a mania for exercising. If you go to the web site for the Hofburg, you'll see the room with her exercise equipment. She even had circus equipment in the room!

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Leslie, I thought your chapter on Franz Josef and Elizabeth in Notorious Marriages was quite astute and I have already read your chapter on Rudolf in Royal Pains which is excellent! I should have linked to my review of your book when I did this post! There was a lot of mental illness in the family due to inbreeding, among other things.

I thought your speculation that Sissi may have contracted syphilis from her husband is very interesting. It was also traumatic for her, as you also pointed out, to have her children taken away almost as soon as they were born. One can see why she later became obsessed by her beauty, since being early on deprived of the company of her children and frequently of her husband, all she could do was pour her energy into being the most beautiful woman in the world. It must have seemed to her that her looks were the only thing for which she was valued. It is a shame since she did do a lot for the Hungarian people.

Yes, the Sissi films have been blamed for propagating the romantic fairy tale view of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth's troubled marriage, although they themselves did as much to propagate the myth about themselves as did any filmmaker. All one has to do is look at the portraits of Elisabeth with her hair tumbling down, or the popular prints showing the royal couple riding together or walking arm-in arm or sitting surrounded by their children, to guess that they wanted the dream to be true as much as anyone else did.

elena maria vidal said...

Perhaps it is because of their brokenness that so many people are drawn by Sisi and Ludwig. There is a difference between lionizing someone and admiring what was good about them in spite of the wreckage surrounding them. Many people see a little of themselves in those off-center lives.

boinky said...

parts of the film are on youtube, alas without subtitles.

LINK

Leslie Carroll said...

I think that was one of the things I wrote at the end of my chapter on Sisi and Franz Joseph in NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES -- that they were so relatable because their marriage was so fraught with many of the things that everyday couples experience, and as individuals they went through a lot that individuals endure today as well (he was a workaholic; she had an eating disorder and hated her mother-in-law.)

Having her kids taken from her when they were so young was common in royal houses. In fact she was lucky in that they were at least in the same palace. And when she fought her mother-in-law and insisted on superintending the children's education herself (meaning that she, and not Sophia, would choose their tutor), she was still not the mother of the year.

elena maria vidal said...

Leslie, do you think that part of the reason that Sisi was upset by Sophie managing the upbringing of the children was that it was just one more interference of Sophie into Sisi' life? Also, Franz Joseph took his mother's side against Sisi. BTW, I admire the Archduchess Sophie (she appears as a character in MADAME ROYALE) and I truly think she believed she was doing the right thing.

Matterhorn said...

There was definitely a fragility in the mental makeup of the Wittelsbachs, but still, I wonder if they are sometimes viewed too stereotypically. There were Wittelsbachs and Wittelsbachs. For instance, Sisi's brother, Duke Karl Theodor, although unconventional, seems to have been much more well-adjusted than his sister; he did alot of constructive work in medicine and his own family, with Maria Josepha of Portugal, seems to have been much warmer and more united than the family of Franz Josef and Sisi. Then there was the other sister, Maria Sofia, the last queen of Naples, who was such a fighter, and surely had much more of a grip on the role of consort than did poor Elisabeth (although, who knows, maybe some desperate warfare in defense of a falling kingdom would have been good for Sisi, to galvanize her). I also think of Sophie Charlotte, who married the Duc d'Alençon and died heroically in the fire at the charity bazaar in Paris- insisting that the younger women be saved first. She was an admirable character! And, last but not least, Sisi's niece and namesake, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, who served her country through two world wars and many emotional shocks. So, yes, there were weaknesses in the family, but also strengths.

I don't mean to criticize anyone here, I enjoyed reading all the previous comments, but I just wanted to say- I think there are sides to this family that are sometimes overlooked too easily.

elena maria vidal said...

Great points! Thank you, Matterhorn!

Matterhorn said...

Sorry, I got rather passionate! This has been a bit of a touchy topic for me for some time;-)

I remember Marie-José of Belgium, Sisi's great-niece, said that whenever she or her mother did something unconventional, people would go: "Ah, those Wittelsbachs, they're all crazy..." She was quite irritated by it. She also put the blame for the mental problems of Ludwig II and Otto I on their mother, Marie of Prussia, rather than on the Bavarian side of the family. This might sound just like a way of defending her own family, but I'm not sure it was, as Marie-José was perfectly capable of criticizing her great-aunt Sisi's behavior and was also quite impatient with the romantic cult of the empress's memory. Once, Marie-José was at a dinner with some historians, and one of them kept sentimentally repeating: "Sissie...oh Sissie..." , in overly sweetened tones. When he finally started rhapsodizing on Sisi's eyes, Marie-José could bear no more. "Excuse me," she asked, ironically, pretending not to know that the man was younger than herself, "did you perhaps know the Empress?" The poor fellow blushed scarlet and fell silent.

elena maria vidal said...

It is good to hear your thoughts on these matters.

Matterhorn said...

Thank you:)

I worked some of these ideas into a little article, and got some interesting comments back:


http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2011/02/defending-wittelsbachs.html

elena maria vidal said...

I saw it! I'm linking to it! I personally LOVE the Wittelsbachs, and have ever since my trips to Bavaria and Austria.

Kristi said...

She was only a terrible mother because she didn't have any experience with her own children. She didn't know them, because she unwillingly wasn't a part of their growth. How could have Sissi's mother-in-law expect her to grow up without having to face the joy and burden of raising her own children? Sissi's mother raised her, plus 7 other children (is it 7?); I'd think Sissi knew the basics. And Sophie's reasons were that Sissi was a silly mother; what influence, whether positive or not, have on a baby? She could have at least let Sissi breastfeed, hold, etc, her children.