29 July 2012 | marcin_kukuczka
Explosive Burst of Talent(s)
After Romy Schneider's definite answer "NO" at the attempts to cast her in the fourth part of SISSI, she did not entirely get rid of portraying a monarch on the screen. In fact, as a young actress with the European career ahead of her (the late 1950s), she could embody these characters with the similar grace like the greatest Hollywood stars of the time. And so KATIA, a remake of the 1938 movie by Maurice Tourneur the action of which is set in Russia during the reign of tsar Alexander II, boasts of her magnetic presence. But its link with SISSI appears to be more biographical than actual. The effect Romy creates in KATIA owes much to the experience of hers under Marischka (not only SISSI but also MAEDCHENJAHRE EINER KOENIGIN).
In that case, it seems quite justified what Film Dienst said about KATIA: "Sissi with Russian names." Some scenes are so similar to the latter that one could even go further and refer to the style herein as the one on the verge of directorial plagiarism. Yet, after analyzing some details of the movie and its background, this opinion appears to be quite simplified and generalized. There is one thing that strikes mostly the conservative fans of Kaiserin Elizabeth - while SISSI was a model of morality on the screen, KATIA is a far more daring movie, which prepares, in this way, a ground for more controversial movies. The film's content is affected by EXPLOSIONS! Thanks to many people and their encounters but, first, let me outline some data about the director of this movie.
Robert Siodmak had already gained experience in Hollywood making some of the most intriguing film noirs of the time. One of such great, effective experiments with the genre appears to be PHANTOM LADY (1944) with the staff producer Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock's former secretary and script assistant. After coming back from the USA, such European stuff as in KATIA's storyline was surely new to Mr Siodmak. Nevertheless, in this typical romance of the time that includes misalliance and typical charm for the stuff, he handles some of the skillfully 'manipulated' images exceptionally well. While in thriller we are occupied by the question: "Where is a murderer?," in KATIA we are occupied by "Where is the tsar?"
The revolutionary ideas and attempts that are incorporated into the storyline, though may seem boring and exaggerated at certain moments (bombing is artificially depicted), serve a very useful purpose to depict the twofold reality that influenced the imperial court of the time. Though not very thrilling, the details that we pay attention to are a real product of the film noir experience of the director. This focus on details is resembled at the Institute of Smolny sequence and the little portrait of the tsar that Katia holds in her hand. Moreover, the camera highlights the face expression of a dying man rather than calling our attention at shooting itself. In the conspiracy sequence, the objects of bread and bottle mark the plot's undertone memorably. Some scenes are built upon mere hints not exposing the entire image of a situation.
Naturally, the film is a royal costume drama and therefore, it offers a lot of splendid garments in scenes of exceptional charm. Just to name the great ball that tsar opens with Katia and the young girl from Smolny Institute claims not to dance with anyone else from then on. It may be called a 'Russian epic' thanks to its typical combination of love and reign, of tradition and reform, of striking heart and national duty. The splendor of the Orthodox Church is nicely depicted in the scene of tsarina Maria Alexandrovna's funeral. But that would be all quite little if it were not for the people we actually see this film today: Romy Schneider and Curd Juergens. Here lies another explosion...the one of talents.
Their age discrepancy (a generation) works well on the screen and accurately stresses the 'forbidden love' that was bound, like most of the Hollywood romances, to lose. Their chemistry is clear and not at all enforced. Romy Schneider, in fact, portrays a character that grows in age and in experience ('kidnapped' from the narrow minded institute to the court) while Curd Juergens portrays a ruler whose heart changes. Their scenes are romantic (sleigh ride) and daring (in one scene they lie in bed - still something uncommon in 1959). Among many of the skillful methods of acting, consider their eye contact, where camera does an additionally effective job. The supporting cast, including Pierre Blanchar as Koubaroff and Monique Melinand as Tsarina remain in the shadow of the two. KATIA is truly a Romy Schneider and Curd Juergens' film. Such a unique pair and isn't that an irony of fate that they both died within one month?
All in all, no great work of cinematic production but an interesting little film where Romy's talent actually bursts out in the role more free to interpret than Sissi and not yet so daring as her later roles of possibilities in their fullness.