A tragic romance set among the noble classes of 19th century Vienna, Liebelei showcases legendary director Max Ophüls’ (Letter From an Unknown Woman, The Earrings of Madame de ..., La Ronde) signature themes of love and death, as well as his wonderfully fluid visual style.
In the wake of his loveless affair with a beautiful baroness, Fritz (Wolfgang Liebeneiner), a handsome lieutenant of the mounted Dragoons, becomes enamored with Christine (Magda Schneider*), the daughter of a middle-class musician. Christine's innocence and trust inspire Fritz to reform his philandering ways – the purity of their love eloquently represented by the majestic, snow-blanketed Semmering forests through which they sleigh. But when the jealous Baron Eggersdorf (Gustaf Gründgens) learns of his wife's past indiscretions, he challenges the young officer to a duel, threatening to end the idyllic romance of Fritz and Christine before it can truly begin.
The survival of Liebelei is a minor miracle. For years, the film was suppressed from exhibition – and the negative destroyed – by the Nazi party due to Liebelei's criticism of military codes of honor and the Jewish background of Ophüls, Millakowsky and playwright Arthur Schnitzler (who also wrote Reigen, which Ophüls would later bring to the screen as La Ronde). In this carefully-prepared edition, mastered from one of the very few original prints known to exist, the sparse original subtitles are supplemented bynewly-translated text. In spite of some choppiness in the source copy, the film maintains cinematographer Franz Planer's lustrous sheen reminiscent of Ophüls’ later work.
* Schneider's daughter, Romy Schneider (featured in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, also available from Flicker Alley), played the same role in the 1958 film Christine.