25 May 2011 | Rueiro
Full of beauty and romanticism.
For many many years I wanted to see this movie, a film you never get to see on TV or at a Visconti retrospective at the NFT or one of the Curzon cinemas here in London. Perhaps it is so because this film has been so much underrated by critics and public that it drags far behind the director's most famous and praised works (The Leopard, Rocco, La Terra Trema, etc).
I read in a biography of the director that "Ludwig" was a mammoth project that took four production companies from different countries to put up the budget, it obsessed and consumed Visconti to the the extent of almost killing him when he suffered a stroke as a result of long working hours and too much mental strain, went well over schedule and budget and finally was taken away from the author's hands by the producers and butchered and re-edited in order to make it shorter, simpler and more viably commercial. The result was a mess almost half of the length of the original and with a lot of key scenes missing, presenting an inconsistent story full of plot holes and with characters appearing now and then from nowhere. It took several years after Visconti's death for his usual collaborators (d'Amico, Nanuzzi) to gather the missing sequences and re-edit the film into a cut as close to Visconti's idea as it could be. The result is a a DVD edition of 228 minutes. This movie, visually speaking, is with "Death in Venice" probably Visconti's most beautiful,lavish and rich in colours and small details. As to the story, I agree with other viewers on the fact that it is a bit too overlong and it drags at places and some sequences could have been shorter without the plot missing anything. But then it seems like Visconti deliberately wanted to give it that sedate pacing in order to suit the dreamlike mental state of the protagonist during his reclusion in his castles and his lapses into his own fantasy world. In order to understand better Ludwig's personality I read one of his many biographies after watching the movie for the first time, and then I watched it again, and I could appreciate better Visconti's approach to the character. I think this is a movie worth of its director, and even with its flaws and extreme length it deserves better criticism and appreciation than it unfairly got since it first came out in 1972.
Helmut Berger is quite good here and has a remarkable resemblance to the real Ludwig, Romy Schneider is as beautiful as ever and the real Bavarian locations are breathtaking. The night sequence with Ludwig and Elizabeth riding in the snowy forest in the moonlight is one of the most beautiful and romantic I have ever seen in film. The cinematography alone makes "Ludwig" worth watching if you like beautiful things.
Hopefully this movie has gained some appreciation and seems to be getting better reviews nowadays that it did in the past. Many call it Visconti's lost masterpiece. Although I don't think it is one of his greatest works thematically speaking, it surely stands among the most beautiful and lyrical and it is one of my favourite choices for a long winter evening.