Sissi, directed by Ernst Marischka, is a romantic comedy filmed in a pleasant and elegant way, clearly intended for an international distribution, in order to give the world a lively and joyful image of Austria and of what was, in its time, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
A timeless tale
It may be because of the beautiful love story, the incomparable charisma of Romy Schneider, or Ernst Marischka’s innate flair for brilliant romantic tales and melodramas that Sissi (1955) is – together with the other two films in the trilogy, Sissi – The Young Empress (1956) and Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress (1957) – one of the best known Austrian films outside Austria. In fact, the present operation seems to have been carefully planned. Already in itself, the figure of this young princess, with whom even Emperor Franz Joseph falls madly in love, has always had a strong appeal for anyone who has studied her. If, then, from this interesting story, one manages to draw a fictionalized version, with the right interpreters and, last but not least, a directorial flair that knows how to stage everything in a meticulously studied way, then the result is that the work, despite its many imperfections, is perfectly successful.
In fact, if we want to daydream, particularly impressive is the story of this young and lively Bavarian princess (a bright young Romy Schneider), who, after having accompanied her mother (Magda Schneider, the actress’s mother in real life) and her sister Helena (Uta Franz) to visit their close relative, the emperor (Karlheinz Böhm), in Bad Ischl, manages, despite herself, to make the emperor fall irretrievably in love with her, to the point that she replaces Helena as his betrothed and future empress of Austria.
The story of a princess who finds herself, out of the blue, living a great love story that will also make her the most powerful woman in the Empire.
If we want to avoid dwelling too much on the numerous historical falsehoods in the screenplay, we have to consider that the Princess Sissi staged by Marischka is almost an imaginary character with a strong impact on the audience (Romy Schneider will regret having taken part in this trilogy for the rest of her life, since many people will end up referring to her as “Sissi”), but in fact almost invented from scratch. That’s the way it is. Take it or leave it. But then again, this is one of the many poetic licenses that the seventh art has the right to grant itself. Independently of any polemic in this regard.
Considered from this point of view, Sissi is in fact a gracefully and elegantly shot romantic comedy, with everything in the right place and good ideas here and there, especially the bizarre character of the clumsy gendarme chief Boeckl (an excellent Josef Meinrad). A comedy that, in spite of its deliberately muted character and dreamlike echoes, is a far cry from the beautiful Powell and Pressburger’s Oh… Rosalinda!! (directed in the same year, but which – although of a completely different quality – is deliberately presented as a hilarious and irreverent operetta, with a Vienna reconstructed only in film studios). In any case, this comedy, clearly intended for an international distribution, also wants to give the world a lively and joyful image of Austria and of what was, in its time, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Particularly significant in this respect are the moments in which we see the young emperor wishing to pardon a group of young rebels condemned to death (in reality, it seems that Franz Joseph was not, by nature, so merciful, but any positive decision in this regard was most often suggested to him by his wife) or the scene in which we see the young princess Sissi arriving in Vienna as a bride-to-be on a boat along the Danube. At this moment, her father (played by Gustav Knuth) asks her in a very meaningful way: “Isn’t your new homeland wonderful?
And yet, beyond any controversy, many people love Marischka’s film. Or, better still, it’ s precisely this film by Marischka that is easily liked. Maybe it’s because of the grace with which the whole thing is realised (with sunny and green locations – so perfect that they seem almost unreal – an omnipresent but never intrusive music and, last but not least, the great Romy Schneider – here in her third collaboration with Ernst Marischka), because of the successful staging of a love story which, despite the numerous historical fakes, is very realistic and, above all, because of its ability to strike the right chords with a large number of spectators.
We are probably (actually definitely) talking about the most important film of Ernst Marischka’s career, as well as the most successful and best-made film of the trilogy. A trilogy that has remained (fortunately?) so since Romy Schneider refused to take part in a fourth film already in the pipeline, in order not to be forever identified with Princess Sissi.
Original title: Sissi
Directed by: Ernst Marischka
Country/year: Austria / 1955
Running time: 102’
Genre: romance, biographical, historical
Cast: Romy Schneider, Karlheinz Böhm, Magda Schneider, Uta Franz, Gustav Knuth, Vilma Degischer, Josef Meinrad
Screenplay: Ernst Marischka
Cinematography: Bruno Mondi
Produced by: Erma-Film