Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Die Wirtin von der Lahn (4 Stars)

This is a Hungarian film, made in German in 1967. The choice of language shouldn't be a surprise. Large parts of Hungary are German-speaking, and making the film in German opened it to a larger international market.

The film takes place in 1810 in the Kingdom of Westphalia. In the early 19th Century Napoleon Bonaparte conquered most of northern Germany. The so-called Kingdom of Westphalia was an artificial country that he created as a gift for his brother Jérôme. Despite being a foreigner King Jérôme was popular with the people because he abolished serfdom and gave equal rights to Jews.

The Kingdom of Westphalia only existed from 1807 to 1813. The Russian army drove Jérôme out of the kingdom in 1813, and the borders that existed prior to 1807 were restored.

Despite the overall popularity of the king, there was dissatisfaction with other French officials. In particular, Governor Du Lac of Giessen was hated by the people. He passed a law that all unemployed men were to be conscripted to join the army to fight against Russia. It's claimed that none of the Westphalian soldiers who were sent to Russia survived. All unemployed women were to be taken as palace servants, which meant that they were to be used as sex slaves for the governor and the French troops.

That's the historical background. Now for the film.

In 1810 a troupe of actors was travelling across Westphalia for a performance in Mainz. They're stopped by French soldiers near Giessen. They insist that they're actors, but the soldiers declare them unemployed because acting isn't a real profession. The only male actor, Ferdinand, agrees to join the army, but he gets a quick promotion by stealing the uniform of a superior officer, and he's assigned as a personal guard for the governor. The leading female actress, Suzanne, continues to argue with the army about the status of herself and her fellow actresses. This draws the attention of an old widow who owns an inn on the banks of the River Lahn. She immediately gives her inn to Suzanne as a gift, because she doesn't want her nephew Göppelmann to inherit it. This gives Suzanne a job, and she makes the other actresses her employees.

Under her ownership the inn soon becomes profitable, partly because of the beautiful waitresses. That's understandable. I'd rather be served by attractive women than sweaty old men. Göppelmann isn't happy about it. He spreads rumours that the inn is being run as a brothel. There's no truth to the rumours, but soon songs are being written about Suzanne the innkeeper and her house of ill repute.

The main resistance to the Governor Du Lac comes from a student fraternity. The student leader is injured when fleeing from the army and takes refuge in the inn, where he becomes Suzanne's lover. She allows the students to install a stolen printing press in her cellar so that they can print anti-government leaflets. In the meantime the governor wants to visit the inn because he's fascinated by its reputation. Ferdinand acts as an informant to Suzanne and the students. The impending visit by the governor means that Suzanne will have to pretend that her inn really is a brothel, to prevent the governor becoming suspicious and discovering the student activities.

This is a delightful little film, nowhere near as sexual as the DVD cover suggests. It's the first in a series of five films which I hope to watch soon.

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