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The Future of Emily
The Helma Sanders-Brahms Collection

The Future of Emily
1985 / Color / 1:66 anamorphic widescreen / 106 min. / Flügel und Fesseln / Street Date May 27, 2008 / 29.95
Starring Brigitte Fossey, Hildegard Knef, Ivan Desny, Hermann Treusch, Camille Raymond
Cinematography Sacha Vierny
Production Design Jean-Michel Hugon, Rainer Schaper
Film Editor Ursula West
Original Music Jürgen Knieper
Written by Helma Sanders-Brahms, Sylvie Ponsard, Suzanne Schiffman
Produced by Christoph Holch, Barbet Schroeder
Directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Future of Emily (Flügel und Fasseln) is the work of Helma Sanders-Brahms, one of the original New German Cinema directors of the early 1970s. Unlike some of her more caustic films about the German experience, this is a relatively conventional drama of generational jealousy and bitterness, a picture that could well be a stage play. It's also reminiscent of American movies about strong women in conflict, pitting famous German star Hildegard Knef against French actress Brigitte Fossey. Knef's big break came with the very first post-war German success The Murderers Are Among Us. Fossey's best-known picture remains René Clément's Forbidden Games, where she played a Parisian tot orphaned by the war. The film's original German title translates as "Wings and Shackles", which apparently refers to the predicament of its movie star heroine Isabelle, a woman adored by fans but hobbled by family disapproval.


Movie star Isabelle (Brigitte Fossey) finishes up a gory but colorful mythological film, and flies back to Germany to spend time with her daughter Emily (Camile Raymond) and her mother and father Paula and Charles (Hildegard Knef & Ivan Desny). She's pursued by her married co-star Friedrich (Hermann Treusch), who installs himself in a local hotel and makes phone calls begging her to join him. Isabelle's visit is marred by accusations and recriminations. Her parents take issue with her celebrity lifestyle and consider her an unfit mother; young Emily was born out of wedlock. Isabelle puts up with as much of this as she can, but indeed sneaks out to see the selfish Friedrich. Emily simply wishes that her mother and grandmother didn't argue as much. One mother-daughter evening begins in complete harmony, as Isabelle indulges her mother's illusion that she would have been the great actress, had the war not intervened. But Paula ends up condemning Isabelle, and along with the unforgiving Charles, plans to disinherit her.

The Future of Emily is an interesting portrait of an actress's family issues, but as a drama it falls short. Paula and Charles begin and end the movie disapproving of Isabelle's lifestyle, and Isabelle's outlook doesn't develop much either. As an independent woman she decided to keep Emily, a love child fathered by a man she respects as an actor but wouldn't want as a husband. Isabelle's present boyfriend Friedrich is not much of a catch either. He pressures her to jump into his bed with lame dialogue about needing her in addition to his wife. This seems to be perfectly acceptable to Paula, as she's more interested in working anyway, and has put off thinking about what will happen when her looks give out and she can no longer take leading roles.

Isabelle's parents have an altogether different view. To them Isabelle is an irresponsible tramp and the presence of Friedrich in a local hotel is a source of shame and scandal. Paula makes these complaints in front of little Emily, who she wants raised with other values. Isabelle doesn't doubt her parents' commitment but even she seems unaware of their attempts to make Isabelle look bad in her daughter's eyes. Director-writer Sanders-Brahms also implies that Charles and Paula's extreme conservatism is related to Charles' shady military background: he proudly allows Emily to play with his medals, which include the Nazi Iron Cross.

Inside this conflict is the mother-daughter competition. Paula was on the stage when the war put paid to her career, and after a couple of drinks she reveals an intense desire for the exact kind of life that she condemns her daughter for leading. Paula lives through Isabelle and hates her out of jealousy. It's a sick relationship, and not particularly well handled. Paula acts out her fantasies of stardom by dancing and singing, and the effect is a fairly shallow "actress showcase" moment. Isabelle, of course, claims that she would rather be a common housewife cooking and raising children. To make movie work seem unnatural, director Sanders-Brahms shows Isabelle being filmed on a stylized stage set, playing a warrior god feasting on the blood of her fallen lover. Paula looks at some stills of this gruesome scene, and understandably forbids Emily to see them.

The director opens up the housebound movie with a walk on the beach interrupted by pesky autograph hounds. A less relevant sidebar scene shows Isabelle forced to tiptoe over a street covered with dead fish, dumped there by striking fishermen. Apparently this is a rather elaborate means of depicting Isabelle's strong desire to join Friedrich in his hotel room. Director Sanders-Brahms also plays the filmic reference game when she has Isabelle regret that her own best role is still the little girl she played in her first movie. Actress Brigitte Fossey sighs, letting us know that she too is incapable of escaping her association with the classic Forbidden Games.

The story ends with the parents coldly disinheriting their "unworthy" daughter, who returns to her screen work resigned to her glamorous life as a celebrity. The Future of Emily is a diverting but formulaic drama.

Facets' DVD of The Future of Emily contains a beautifully mastered enhanced transfer with excellent color. Jürgen Knieper's music score is flattered by the clean audio track. The English subtitles are removable. No extras are included but an inside flyer touts the disc as part of a six-title Helma Sanders-Brahms series for 2008. They include the well reviewed Germany, Pale Mother and My Heart is Mine Alone.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Future of Emily rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 20, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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