The Wedding March

The Wedding March ★★★★½

1st Erich Von Stroheim

Von Stroheim may have been the absolute Nth degree in obnoxious cruelty but you need arrogance and gumption to make cinema that goes as hard as this. On the surface, this is ruthlessly anti-sentimental filmmaking, as sneeringly hard-hearted against the practical realities of love as you can possibly imagine. The class structures of Vienna are too entrenched to ever make a relationship between a commoner and one of the aristocracy work, and marriage is a social sham made only to appease a greater sense of order and increase financial opportunity. Not a single punch is pulled in that depiction of venality and personal interest, and it is utterly depressing to watch. Von Stroheim's intense manner of directing actors allows for some incredible closeups of minute movements in the faces or hands, revealing a world of emotion in the smallest movements. Fay Wray is particularly exceptional at this, delivering an incredibly powerful performance as Mitzi, a young woman caught between her impossible love for an aristocrat and the horrifically slobbish butcher she must marry. Credit to Zasu Pitts too, who is just wonderful as the physically disabled heiress that Von Stroheim's is forced to marry. It's profoundly moving performance of a woman realising that she's a mere pawn in a bigger scheme, but somehow being happy that she's been noticed at all, a heartbreaking position captured in only a few scenes. And yet under those moments of cruelty, it's evident that there's a real sentimentality towards the idea of love and the purity of that union, one that Stroheim believes in wholeheartedly.

It's this, and the fact that there's a lost sequel called The Honeymoon, which makes me imagine an alternate future of what may have been for Mitzi and Nicky at the end of that film. Nicky and his bride go on a honeymoon, with Mitzi and her butcher at the same location, because she demands it. Tensions run to a fever pitch, the butcher makes a rash act and is punished for his crimes, while the heiress passes away. All seems set for our lovers. But it's Stroheim. Something bitterly ironic will happen and Stroheim and Wray will have to contend with the ramifications. But maybe they'll be able to overcome it together. Von Stroheim certainly doesn't seem to rule it out.

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