Arlecchino Cinema > 16:15


Luchino Visconti
Introduced by

Caterina D’Amico and Frédéric Bonnaud

With a 15’ break


Sunday 26/06/2022


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

After The Damned and Death in Venice, Luchino Visconti’s German trilogy ended with Ludwig. Here Visconti found new, personal ways to express a loving yet critical vision of Germany as a promised land of deep spirit and insight in the arts. The focus again is on a person who is only barely anchored in reality. Ludwig is both an artistic soul – a patron of the arts and a kindred soul brother from whom the ageing Richard Wagner receives support for his vision – and a ruler. He is a critique incarnate of what will follow his own “unviable” administration. The film critic Sakari Toiviainen puts it well: “Ludwig wastes his youth, power and reason while pursuing with self-destructive zeal pleasure and beauty that he is never able to catch because it is only an illusion. He reaches for the illusion of love with his cousin Elisabeth (the very Sissi whom Romy Schneider portrayed already in a cycle of popular film in the 1950s) and with innumerable young men among whom he carries out his homosexual preferences; the illusion of creation with Wagner; the illusion of power; the illusion of his fairytale castles.” Almost invariably, Visconti’s films focus on compact periods of time; only Rocco and The Damned cover a few years. Ludwig is the mirage of an entire life. It begins from the unlimited promise of the young ruler. The spur in the recent past is the fictitious idyll generated by the victory of the counter-revolution and reaction in 1848 – that is, the period that concludes Lola Montès. At the end Ludwig is an ordinary beer-guzzling philistine, a toothless sissy among young men in Lederhosen playing blind man’s bluff. By the late 1870s, Germany has united. Ludwig’s participation in this momentous event is almost parodic; with a swipe he signs Bismarck’s paper that reduces him to a marionette. Ludwig is a series of ceremonies in which we witness how a way of life transforms into theatre. Corporal beings turn into role models. Glorious milieux, of which Ludwig’s underwater grotto is the apex, glide into the past, and in the background of the scenery-changes Wagner’s music plays quietly. Having given an account of capitalism’s transition into fascism and the great European crisis that preceded it, Visconti descends into ‘a twilight of the Gods’. This is total cinema, both very original and at the same time a dignified and inspired continuation of a great tradition.

Peter von Bagh, Taikayö [A Night of Magic], Love Kirjat, Helsinki 1981 (translated by Antti Alanen)


A story of anguish with a happy end
As soon as the shooting of Ludwig was complete, on 27 July 1972, Luchino Visconti suffered a stroke that left the left side of his body paralysed. He faced a long process of rehabilitation, first in Switzerland and then in his family home in Cernobbio, where a gym was installed with everything he needed to continue the film as best he could, as well as an editing suite, where he was joined by Ruggero Mastroianni and his assistants. The entire film was therefore edited in Cernobbio. The sound mixing, on the other hand, took place in Rome, where Visconti was able to return at the end of the year. When the finished film was delivered, problems arose with the producers who were shocked by the film’s length and the risk of censorship difficulties and therefore requested very dramatic cuts. Visconti fought for his work’s integrity but was ultimately forced to give in and the film came out in a mutilated version missing almost 700 metres of footage. Its first release (January 1973) in Bavaria, where its editing had also been altered, was both a disaster and a scandal. It was followed by a disastrous release in Italy, in March of the same year. And so it went on, from country to country. Right up until his death (17 March 1976), Visconti refused to see the various versions adopted in different countries, which he disparagingly referred to as “commercials”.
One night in November 1978, the screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico happened to notice an announcement in the corner of a page of a Roman newspaper about the auctioning of the rights and film materials for Ludwig as a result of the bankruptcy of its production company, Mega. She could not believe her eyes, so she immediately called Visconti’s favourite sister Lady Uberta Visconti, the co-screenwriter Enrico Medioli, the editor Ruggero Mastroianni, the production manager Lucio Trentini: “We must buy it, we must put it back together…” Word began to spread among Visconti’s collaborators. One night, Mario Chiari and Mario Garbuglia (art directors), Piero Tosi (costume designer), Umberto Tirelli (head of wardrobe), Mario Maldesi (dubbing director), Franco Mannino (music supervisor) and Armando Nannuzzi (cinematographer) all got together. Three days later, Ohonte Film was born, founded by the aforementioned artists with the cautious addition of Silvia d’Amico Bedicò, Suso’s daughter and a producer in her own right, who was able to investigate with greater expertise and sense the likelihood that such an undertaking would succeed, as well as assuming responsibility for the myriad bureaucratic and administrative issues. The auction was to take place ten days later. It emerged that PAT, the distribution company of an illustrious businessman, Vittorio Balini, had already acquired the distribution rights during a court-ordered auction a year earlier and that he would likely contest the newly formed Ohonte at auction. A delegation made an appointment with Balini. They declared: “We would like to buy the production rights to Ludwig. We want to destroy the version currently in distribution and reconstruct Visconti’s film in its original form. It will be a difficult and expensive operation and for this reason, once we have acquired the production rights, we would like to invite you to bring your distribution rights and enter into an association with us. You would then become, together with us, owner of 50% of the real Ludwig.” A bewildered Balini replied that he could not see the benefit to him, given that he could easily beat the group at auction, own 100% of the film rights and continue to distribute it as it was. The delegation responded: “Because only we can reconstruct that masterpiece, and you could have the pride of knowing that without you, the operation would have been impossible.” Balini started to laugh, but he agreed to become part of the project. On the day of the auction, Visconti’s entire crew turned up to support Ohonte, which managed to acquire the production rights and film materials for the sum of 80 million.
The reconstruction was beset with difficulties due to several bureaucratic problems and the salvaging and restoration of the film materials, which turned out to be scattered all over the place and rather damaged. Meanwhile, several of the actors, including Romy Schneider and Helmut Griem, had died. Since the film’s original language was English, their deaths meant that it was necessary to resort to the guide track for some sections making it impossible to recreate a high quality English soundtrack. The Italian version fared better, since all the original dubbers from 1973 could be used; this should therefore be considered the ‘perfect version’. The new Ludwig feels much shorter than the 1973 version, which suffered so many brutal cuts. After two years of intensive work, in which everyone took part entirely without recompense, Visconti’s Ludwig, the only true version (with a new identity, new censorship visa: a new film) was presented in the Fenice at the Venice Film Festival on 8 September 1980. It was then released into cinemas, distributed by Manfredi and Vania Traxler’s Academy, in November of the same year and met with great success.

Cast and Credits

Sog., Scen.: Luchino Visconti, Enrico Medioli, Suso Cecchi D’Amico. F.: Armando Nannuzzi. M.: Ruggero Mastroianni. Scgf.: Mario Chiari, Mario Scisci. Int.: Helmut Berger (Ludwig II di Baviera) Romy Schneider (Elisabetta d’Austria), Trevor Howard (Richard Wagner), Silvana Mangano (Cosima von Bülow), Gert Fröbe (padre Hoffmann), Helmut Griem (Dürckheim), Izabella Teleżyńska (Regina Madre), Umberto Orsini (conte von Holstein), John Moulder-Brown (principe Otto), Sonia Petrovna (Sofia di Baviera). Prod.: Ugo Santalucia per Mega Film, Cinétel, Dieter Geissler Filmproduktion, KG Divina Film. DCP. D.: 238’. Col.