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by Ernst Marischka

grade: 5.5

In Sissi – The Young Empress, the difficulty of making the film a success is immediately evident, as if Ernst Marischka, living off his previous work, was struggling to pick up the thread of a discourse that had been interrupted at a point when a sequel was not even necessary.

Never change a winning team

The beautiful face of Romy Schneider, captured in the foreground at the end of the feature film Sissi – The Young Empress (1956), is striking for several reasons. It is at this moment, in fact, that the young Sissi, newly crowned Queen of Hungary, simply smiles silently as she looks at her subjects, with tears in her eyes. An emotion, hers, officially due to the happiness of having conquered a beloved people, but, in its own way, also very prophetic in predicting the difficult life of the Empress of Austria and, in a broader sense, even the unfortunate existence of the actress herself. And yet, in its complex simplicity, this shot proved to be by right the most precious moment of the entire feature film.

In 1955 (and for many years afterwards), many people were fascinated by the love story between the young princess Elisabeth of Bavaria, also known as Sissi, and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria (Karlheinz Böhm), which was staged in the successful film Sissi, directed by Ernst Marischka. Just a year later, a much-needed sequel to the previous film was then released, Sissi – The Young Empress, also directed by Marischka and starring the same actors who had made the previous film such a success.

Picking up where the story left off – namely, at the moment when Franz Joseph married Sissi – Sissi – The Young Empress begins in the days immediately following the wedding, in which we are presented with the daily imperial routine, including the emperor’s governmental problems, Sissi’s difficulty in adapting to etiquette and, not least, the stormy relationship between the latter and her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie (Vilma Degischer). In the background, a new alliance is formed between Austria and Hungary, which will soon lead to the two emperors becoming sovereigns of this second nation.

After a necessary contextualisation, however, the difficulty of making the film a success is immediately evident, as if Ernst Marischka, living off his previous work, was struggling to pick up the thread of a discourse that had been interrupted at a time when a sequel was not even necessary.

And yet, as we know, history moves on, as do the production requirements. Especially considering that Sissi turned out to be the most successful Austrian feature film on an international level. And so, the then successful Erma Film immediately felt the need for a continuation of the events, just as fictionalized, just as exaggeratedly sweetened.

Although – apart from the staging of the historical events – the true focus of the first feature film of the series was the love story between the young Sissi and her Franz, to the point that the work should be considered as a complete and self-contained love story in its own, Sissi – The Young Empress, with the exception of the story in which – from the second half of the film onwards – a young empress is in crisis and on the run from the palace after her mother-in-law decides to take care of her newborn daughter, is excessively weak from a writing point of view, primarily because of a poorly structured script, which only gets to the heart of the plot after nearly fifty minutes.

Unfortunately, the same is also true from the point of view of the mise-en-scène, where every possible mannerism reigns supreme, with its climax at the moment when the imperial couple are crowned on the Hungarian throne. It is at this moment, in fact, that, almost proceeding on autopilot, Marischka has decided to maintain the same sets – and the same music – as in the first film, in the final scene in which Franz Joseph marries Sissi, creating a rhetorical and unsuccessful mannerism that only reveals directorial and production fatigue, as well as a lack of credibility of the project itself.

In fact, it is the above-mentioned close-up of Schneider’s face that communicates much more than the entire film. A sign that this work, rather than being a feature film in its own, is almost a transitional feature in view of what Marischka himself would make the following year. A sign that Ernst Marischka, who had always been particularly inclined to make melodramas and romantic stories, was perfectly capable of making good products if he was properly inspired. A sign that, beyond any reinterpretation of the facts, history first and foremost (almost) always plays an important role.

Original title: Sissi – die junge Kaiserin
Directed by: Ernst Marischka
Country/year: Austria / 1956
Running time: 107’
Genre: romance, historical, biographical
Cast: Romy Schneider, Karlheinz Boehm, Magda Schneider, Gustav Knuth, Vilma Degischer, Josef Meinrad, Walther Reyer
Screenplay: Ernst Marischka
Cinematography: Bruno Mondi
Produced by: Erma-Film

Info: the page of Sissi – The Young Empress on