Foreign Film Friday -Sissi (1955)


Sissi is a German film about the real life historical figure of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The real Elisabeth (nicknamed Sisi) had royal Bavarian blood and was well connected through her many royal relations. She was fifteen when her first cousin, Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian emperor, fell in love with her and coerced her into marriage. Though she was renowned for her beauty, once married she lived a rather unhappy life. Sisi’s rather free upbringing made it difficult for her to adjust to the rules and strictures of court life. This was made even more difficult by her overbearing and controlling mother-in-law. Though her husband loved her, he stayed busy being emperor and she didn’t reciprocate the depth of his feelings. Although she is the longest reigning empress of Austria, she spent most of those years away from court and uninvolved in its’ politics.

Sissi is the first of a trilogy of German films which portray the life of this famous woman.  As with most historical films, it is fairly romanticized. Still it manages to give a somewhat true accounting of Sisi’s early life.

The picture covers the brief period of Elisabeth’s life prior to catching the eye of the Emperor until the day of their wedding. It introduces other historical characters such has her sister Helene, who had been the original intended bride of the Emperor. Other characters which appear are Sisi’s parents and siblings, and her aunts and uncles who were the ruling monarchs of other German principalities.


Unlike with many films, the actress playing Sissi was actually around the same age as her character. Romy Schneider portrayed Sissi with the exuberant innocence of the young girl she actually is. Schneider was a German actress who eventually became internationally known after appearing in American and French films. Her mother, who was a well known actress in Germany, plays her mother in the film.

Somewhat unintentionally, I have been on a streak of watching biopic films of historical female rulers. In the past year, I have seen feature films and television series on the Queens Elizabeth and Victoria, as well as the Russian Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine. Perhaps because the real Sisi was not the sole ruler of her nation, she is a very different kind of public figure than the other women. Her story has many parallels with that of Catherine the Great. Yet her reactions to many similar circumstances is very different. After doing a little research reading on Sisi, I would love to see more of her life featured on screen.

Fans of The Sound of Music will most likely enjoy Sissi. It has very much the “feel” of that popular musical. It features the gorgeous landscapes and architecture of Austria and filmed in a couple of the same locations. The picture itself is bright with light and vibrant colors. There is a scene during the wedding where the church bells are ringing that is so similar to The Sound of Music that it makes me wonder if the musical took its’ inspiration from Sissi.

If foreign films seem a bit intimidating to you, this is a good one to begin with if you want to branch out. Aside from the German subtitles, it has a very familiar look and feel to many American films. It is pleasant and interesting in the way it introduces the story of the real Sisi. It may even pique your interest in learning more about this beautiful but sad woman.

Sissi is currently available on Youtube and Blueray DVD.


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