Why watching movies about an Austrian Empress is a German holiday tradition | cultural | Report on arts, music and lifestyle in Germany | DW

The Christmas season has arrived in Germany, and that means it’s time to watch the Sisi film trilogy, which tells the story of a young Viennese empress with a radiant smile and bright blue eyes. Released in the 1950s, Austrian director Ernst Marischka’s films, starring Romy Schneider as Sissi, have been getting German audiences into the holiday spirit for decades.

Upon their release in divided post-war Germany, the playful Sisi the films were balm to the soul of a fractured nation. Today, they remain classic wellness holidays.

Completely irrelevant to today’s fans is how much the director twisted historical reality. The love story between Elisabeth and Franz Joseph, the rulers of the Habsburg monarchy, was “not even enough for a short film”, as the Wiesbaden Tagblatt wrote the newspaper in 1957, when Austria proudly presented Sissi’s third film at the Cannes Film Festival. However, the critics were wrong.

A box office success

One day after the film’s successful premiere in Vienna, Austria in 1955, the first film, Sisi, was released in German cinemas. The story of the charming Bavarian teenager who becomes Austrian royalty was followed by two blockbuster films detailing the life of the young Empress: Sisi The Young Empress (Sissi – Die junge Kaiserin) in 1956, and Sisi The Fateful Years of an Empress (Sissi – Schicksalsjahre einer Kaisierin) in 1957. The films, which launched German actress Romy Schneider into stardom, were box office successes. Although exact figures are not available, it is estimated that 25 million moviegoers have seen them.

The plot details the early years of Empress Elisabeth of the Habsburg Empire and is based on the novel of the same name by author Marie Blank-Eismann, which was published in two parts in 1952 in Germany. The book had already come to life as an illustrated story in the magazine Blutenregen in 1933.

Kitsch and criticism

Critics accuse the films’ director of relying too much on kitsch, but others say such accusations fall flat. While it’s true that the films don’t offer an entirely faithful depiction of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the basic story is accurate, including young Elisabeth’s rapid alienation from the court of Vienna, her enthusiasm for Hungary, its escapades abroad and its aversion to royalty. life. “I don’t want to become empress! I want to live freely without constraint!” says Sissi in the film. Above all, the films brought classic Hollywood elements to European cinema, telling heartwarming stories with beautiful imagery, making cinematic history.

Karlheinz Böhm and Romy Schneider present themselves to the royal court in a palace of Sissi.

Families from Germany and Austria enjoy watching the film trilogy at Christmas

Eventually, German actress Romy Schneider became unhappy with the role that made her famous and overshadowed her later career. “I loved that role at the time,” Schneider said. “I was the princess, not just in front of the camera. I was always a princess. But one day, I just didn’t want to be a princess anymore,” she said in an interview later in his life. The actor who played her royal husband, Karlheinz Böhm, complained that the production dragged the audience into a ‘pink marzipan pig world’, that is, into a kind of cotton candy fluff . Böhm broke with his stark image when he played a psychopathic murderer in the 1959 film Voyeur.

A portrait of the current Empress Sissi, who wears ornaments in her hair.

Netflix is ​​also shooting a movie about the Empress.

Even today, the enchantment with Sissi continues. Netflix is ​​now planning to make an adaptation of the life of the Austrian Empress with German actress Devrim Lingnau in the lead role. In the homes of many families in Germany and Austria during Christmas celebrations, the monarch couple can be seen on television, filling the time between eating a roast and drinking an afternoon coffee.

This article was adapted from German by Sarah Hucal.