08 May 2013

Marlene (2000), movie review

Marlene (2000) movie trailer:

      Marlene is a movie made in 2000, shot in Germany and Italy. Directed by Joseph Vilsmaier, starring Katja Flint as Dietrich, Herbert Knaup as Rudi and Heino Ferch as Carl Seidlitz. It was made with Maria & Peter Riva's help. Apparently, it's one of the most expensive German movies in second half of 20th century, costing 17,800,000 marks. The film focuses on Dietrich's life from the roaring 20s to the 70s, but the story is told here only in brief episodes.

Movie version of 1920s Marlene. (source)

     There are some very good sides of this movie. One of them is the usage of Marlene's original recordings/fragments of motion pictures (The Blue Angel, to be exact) and photos. Unfortunatelly, some of the photos are used in wrong contexts (ex. there's Marlene Kismet promo photograph shown in a "1930s" newspaper).

     The make-up departement did quite a good job on characterization. Katja Flint's brows and cheekbones are very convincing, especially when you compare her Dietrich-look to her day-to-day one. However, there are two things that bother me: first one is that the make-up hardly changes during the scenes that represent 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. Dietrich make-up and therefore, the look of her face, changed a lot, especially during the 1930s. Another dissonance is that Katja's eyes are left brown. I constantly felt there's something wrong, brown-eyed Marlene just didn't seem right!

On The Blue Angel set (source)

     However, I have to give credit to Flint's acting. She was good, maybe not terribly convincing, but surely she did well in portraying Marlene's face expressions, looks and gestures. And the way she says "But Pappi..." is just wonderfull!

     People working on costumed also did neat job, HOWEVER, there were some mistakes (nothing's ever too good ;) ). For example, Marlene's famous velvet-and-mink costume from The Scarlet Empress is made of red velvet in this movie; in Maria Riva's book, it was described as green. The lingerie she's wearing isn't period-perfect ( bras used in the movie seem to have too modern, underwired, rounded shape).

      Emil Jannings (Armin Rohde) was pictured just the way as I've imagined him; his big star behaviour, on the set and off, was shown to perfection. The portrayal of von Sternberg (by Hans Werner Meyer) was not bad either, but I think they made him a bit too temperamental.

      Last but not Least, I really like the job that the scriptwriter did. There are many details from Marlene's life that are nicely put here and there throughout the movie; her superstitions, her dolls, the nicknames used in Marlene's family...

Loneliness. (source)

      Not surprisingly, there are also some flaws. Lots of facts are out of their contexts (Mae West meeting Marlene during her garden party-we all know the ladies didn't get together outside the Paramount studio; Marlene being called in the press the box office poison in 1944; that actually happened in 1938. Moreover, in the movie Marlene is happy to let the newspaper reporter interview Maria; we know that just wouldn't happen in real life).

     Many interesting facts and events are skipped-like the romances with Gilbert, Remarque, or at least with Gabin; he was a big part of her life. But this is easy to understand, if someone wanted to include all of the interesting episodes from Dietrich's life, the film would be one of the longest ever made.

     Another point on the drawbacks list is that Marlene character is portrayed not perfectly true to what we have read about, for example in Maria's book; in the 1920s, we see Marlene, who is a very loud party girl, kissing girls in front of many, many people, in a cheap, tacky way. I know Marlene never was a saint, but I don't think that she would behave is such "straight-in-your-face" manner. In 1930s, we see Marlene in Hollywood-she is quite weak, cries a lot, drinks a lot - and her main problem is that she wants carrier so much that she decides to devote all her life to become famous; she resigns from happiness on account of ambition. Her life overwhelms her. Was it really so? I always felt that Marlene wasn't someone who would starve for movie star fame so much that it would made all her life fell apart.

      Rudi and his relations with Dietrich are also portrayed strangely. They seem to be furious with jealousy about each other and Rudi appears to be a man with lots of insecurities, driven by emotions; not really the advocate of good taste and manners, perfect down-to-earth helping hand that was described in Maria's book.

      At the end of the movie, it is stated that Marlene wanted to be buried next to her mother in Berlin. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't she want to rest in Paris?

      There is one last thing that bothers me. The motif that ties the movie together is Marlene's love for a man known as Carl Siedlitz. He is shown as the love of her life, the only man in the world that really understands her; he follows her in her train journey after The Blue Angel premiere; he follows her also in late 1930s in Austria and then during the war. In that particular scene, Marlene shows complete insubordination, leaving the soldiers to go and meet her love, somewhere near the front... Surprisingly, no one ever heard or read about Carl, so either I'm not educated enough in Marlene's biography, or this "biggest love story" was just a trick to enliven the plot.

The movie states that the love story is true, but was a very well-kept secret.

Singing for the soldiers (source)

     In general, I would give this movie 5-6 out of 10 points. It is entertaining to watch, but for sure it is not the best source of knowledge. It's a pity that so many tiny mistakes could have been eliminated with ease--and that would make this movie much, much better.


  1. Ooh I want to see this, mainly for the clothes and any hint of Marlene!

  2. ein grauenhafter Film! würde man Bilder aus Marlenes Leben aneinnanderreihen und colorieren hätte man das selbe Ergebnis
    Seidlitz ist ein Synonym für all die Männer die sie liebte auf ihre Weise ( nicht nur auf sexueller Ebene Gabin , Remarque, Willi Forst, Fairbanks ,Gavin )
    schade dass man am Ende beim Schlusskonzert von 1972 die Musik aus den 60er Jahren und die "Maske" der Dietrich aus den 50er Jahren kombiniert gibt auch 2 verschiedene Endfassungen, die verwendete und eine wo Marlene betrunken in den Orchestergraben fällt ( wurde aber nicht verwendet auf Rücksicht auf die Legende )
    es hätte ein wunderbarer Film werden können..aber leider...

  3. Given this film's lukewarm reception, does Marlene's life deserve another biopic? I think so, but the script and director really ought to do something unexpected. I saw this movie long ago and found its story comparable to a TV movie. Marlene was not quite like any other actress, and--intentional or not--she defied being like any other actress. This is what makes her ABC, the Schell documentary, and Maria's book special. A real visionary would be able to bring Marlene's quirks and gallows humor to life, one with a strong European sensibility, too. Most importantly, I hope no one tortures us by casting the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow again, unless she's to play Maria.

    1. Agreed! Bound to turn into a soap -- unless it's done high-concept,or perhaps dealing only with a small part of Marlene's life.

      Love your casting of Ms Paltrow! Who should we cast as poor Tami? And should everything be set on the chicken ranch?

  4. i just saw the movie and i do think the actress playing Marlene was very convincing... she really did look like her... but there were key things left out... i'm really surprised at the relationship with Rudi...they seemed to be always fighting..and i'm really surprised that Gabin didn't make the cut... and i also did notice that Kismet photo was used in the wrong year... as well as box office poison and the Mae West appearance... it could have been a really good movie... and i hope whatever they do in the future they get it together... Marlene's life was quite extrodinary and i don't think Paltrow can pull it off either...