In the late 1800’s, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, falls for Sophie Chotek, a Czech countess. He’s already a problem to the Crown because of his political ideas; this love affair with someone not of royal blood breeches protocol. The Crown allows the union only after the couple agrees to a morganatic marriage. The emperor further neutralizes Franz by making him inspector general of the army, sending him afield for months at a time. In June of 1914, fearing for his safety, Sophie seeks permission to accompany Franz to Sarajevo; protocol dictates that no army troops attend Franz while she is present. An assassin strikes. Their deaths spark World War I.
“Ce film n’a pas la pretention d’être une oeuvre historique.” Romance on the verge of war, the vintage fable suddenly apropos. Max Ophüls begins like Lubitsch on a tear with the Hapsburg court all aflutter, the Archduke Ferdinand (John Lodge) crashes the imperial celebration hoping for progressive plans and gets instead to smile and wave from the balcony. Austrian rule is not appreciated in Czechoslovakia and Duchess Sophie (Edwige Feuillère) doesn’t mind telling him, their love blossoms under a pair of contradictory objects of fate—the rigidity of the statue of the Emperor (Jean Worms) and the irreversibility of the pocket watch. Disguises avoid scandal, she plays governess and in a splendid little gag is asked to pose in a tableaux with her beloved. (The bumbling photographer frets about symmetry as the camera takes an upside-down POV, too late, the light is gone.) Protocols, “the call of power,” authoritarian insensibility on the horizon. “There are certain laws and traditions that do not allow for sentiment.” A trenchant juxtaposition of the affairs of the heart and the affairs of the state, a great political work in which lovers are threatened not just by illusions but by history itself. Brutal raids viewed through yacht binoculars and marriage telescoped through a family slide-show, a sympathetic ear from the regal stepmother (Gabrielle Dorziat) and a glaring monocle from the Prince of Montenuovo (Aimé Clariond). The Mayerling incident is a verboten memory, the ultimate Ophüls encapsulation of “une triste epoch” is the ceremonial ballroom the defiant couple are not allowed to attend. Elegant trains and carriages rush toward the rendezvous with the fanatic’s bullets in Sarajevo, yet, even when the swastika burns through newsreel footage at the close, there’s the Liebelei lilt still: “Regret nothing! We knew such happiness…” Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent and Borzage’s The Mortal Storm are strikingly contemporaneous. With Jean Debucourt, Raymond Aimos, Gaston Dubosc, and Colette Régis. In black and white.
— Fernando F. Croce (Cinepassion.org)
2.23GB | 1h 35m | 790×576 | mkv