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by Axel Corti and Gernot Roll

grade: 7.5

In Axel Corti’s Radetzkymarsch (which was finished by Gernot Roll after the director’s sudden death), alongside the parable about the empire there is a particular focus on the father/son relationship and what the two protagonists never managed to say to each other. All this is staged also thanks to the excellent performances of a very good cast, within which the great Max von Sydow stands out.

Another chapter of history

The novel Radetzky March, written by Joseph Roth in 1932, stands as one of the essential works within Austrian literature. Indeed, this novel, in telling a single family story, takes a close look at the last years of the Habsburg Empire and the effects it had on the population. This novel, then, had such an impact that several production companies wanted to make a film-television adaptation at all costs. And if in the 1960s – and, specifically, in 1964 – the miniseries of the same name by Michael Kehlmann gained widespread acclaim, a good thirty years later Radetzkymarsch – directed by Axel Corti and finished, following the latter’s sudden death, by cinematographer Gernot Roll – was even more successful, as it was the result of a co-production between Germany, France and Austria and thanks to a cast that included, among others, the great Max von Sydow, Charlotte Rampling and Jean-Louis Richard.

The story is the one that many are now familiar with: during the Battle of Solferino, second lieutenant Josef von Trotta saves the life of young Emperor Franz Joseph I. As a result of his heroic act, the young man is immediately awarded a title of nobility, which he himself refuses when, many years later, he realises how much the real story had been manipulated and the hypocrisy of the Empire itself. In any case, his son Franz (a terrific Max von Sydow), in order to rebel against his father, will continue to honour the empire for the rest of his life, feeling proud every time a marching band plays the Radetzky March in his honour in front of his house, and persuading his son Karl-Josef (Tilman Günther) to join the army. The boy, however, seems very unwilling to join the military and this will cause him several inner conflicts.

If, therefore, in the first series directed by Michael Kehlmann, two pictures – that of the grandfather von Trotta and that of Emperor Franz Joseph, often placed side by side – played a central role in the mise-en-scène, in Corti and Roll’s Radetzkymarsch , alongside the parable about the empire, there is a particular focus on the father/son relationship and on what the two protagonists never managed to say to each other. A narrator’s voice (the role entrusted to actor Udo Samel) is given the task of expressing Franz and Karl-Josef’s thoughts. And it is above all Franz’s feelings for his son – which he is never able to express – that are staged here, culminating in one of the most intense and touching moments of the film (also thanks to von Sydow’s excellent performance), in which Franz, just before the finale, after receiving a letter informing him of the fate of his son at the front, goes to every corner of the city to inform all his acquaintances.

Thinking back to Kehlmann’s Radetzkymarsch , this last work by Axel Corti is further developed, even more fictionalised, and, compared to the previous feature, does not aim to an essential mise en scène, but, on the contrary, gives us frequent focuses on the close-ups of the protagonists and their bodies in intimate moments. Bearing in mind, then, that this work by Corti was conceived exclusively for television, we can easily realise how it has not been influenced by previous rules, but, on the contrary, alongside certain standards to be followed, shows a good mastery of film, with an approach that is the result of decades of experience. And it is no coincidence that, even nowadays, Axel Corti is considered one of the most important names within Austrian cinema. It’s quite sad when one considers that the director, who passed away during filming, was unable to watch his last work completed. And Gernot Roll, for his part, really tried hard to properly finish the film that his collegue had started. As a result, many spectators, also from abroad, were moved and passionate about the story of the von Trotta family.

Original title: Radetzkymarsch
Directed by: Axel Corti, Gernot Roll
Country/year: Austria, Germany, France / 1994
Running time: 255’
Genre: drama, historical, war
Cast: Max von Sydow, Charlotte Rampling, Claude Rich, Tilman Günther, Jean-Louis Richard, Julia Stemberger, Elena Sofia Ricci, Friedrich W. Bauschulte, Ferenc Bacs, Bruno Dallansky, Karlheinz Hackl, Gustl Halenke, Miguel Herz-Kestranek, Jan Kehar, Michèl Keller, Josef Kemr, Fritz Muliar, Karoly Mecs, Zdenek Rehor, Michael Schönborn, Ernst Stankovski, Alexander Strobele, Franz Tscherne, Friedrich von Thun, Gert Voss
Screenplay: Georges Conchon, Axel Corti, Louis Gardel, Jean Lagache, Erik Orsenna
Cinematography: Gernot Roll
Produced by: Satel Film, ORF

Info: the page of Radetzkymarsch on iMDb; the page of Radetzkymarsch on the website of the Austrian Film Commission