The Mayerling affair is the essence of the matter, viewed from the vantage of Rabelais, van Haarlem, and the doomed Age of Aquarius carousel. Crown Prince Rudolf (Lajos Balázsovits), heir to the Hapsburg Empire, is introduced ass-first a la Bardot, smoking a cig atop a hayloft in his pastoral estate, a secluded garden and the stage for the unending orgy. His stepsiblings (Pamela Villoresi, Franco Branciaroli) are his chief partners-in-debauchery, Mary (Teresa Ann Savoy) is no baroness but part of the traveling circus troupe; scandal is "the only weapon we have," the swirling nudity of their pansexual romps is a direct affront to Emperor Franz Joseph, whose regime values the rigidity of the military uniform above all. "Much of our highly valued cultural heritage has been acquired at the cost of sexuality" (Freud). Released from the machinistic long-take, the bariolage of Miklós Jancsó’s filming is here close to the darkening movement of Ophüls, whose own version of the fable (De Mayerling ŕ Sarajevo) gets a sharp tip o’ the hat in the running photograph gag. The bacchanalia is as choreographed as the maneuvers and skirmishes of The Round-Up or The Red and the White, yet here the circles spill over, overlap and break off, the naked figures that previously embodied humiliation stand for insurrection. "May all the children of the empire spit on their fathers," the Prince declares, and demonstrates on the royal family portrait. Jancsó celebrates the political potential of chiaroscuro softcore couplings and fluidity of flesh (the camera tilts down and, casually revealing the luminous Savoy as a hermaphrodite, expands the film’s chimerical carnality). Yet he’s not uncritical: The infantilizing of the revelers (with nursery rhymes mingled with Strauss) suggests a lack of values to replace the ones being overthrown, the central image is a half-dressed mockery of a waltz that continues to spin until everybody is on the floor. Epicurean torpor gives way to imperial subjugation, and the genuine romance of rebellion to the fabricated one of suicidal love. Makavejev’s Sweet Movie pushes the wallow even further, Salň is the purposefully degraded version. With Laura Betti, Ivica Pajer, and Ilona Staller.
--- Fernando F. Croce