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Film / Opfergang

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Opfergang ("Sacrifice", aka The Great Sacrifice) is a 1944 film from Nazi Germany directed by Veit Harlan.

Albrecht Froben is a shipping magnate who has come back to Germany after sailing across the world to Japan. (The film either takes place before the war, or in some alternate universe where German shipping goes around unimpeded.). He goes to visit an old friend, an aristocrat named Froebel. When meeting Froebel he also renews his acquaintance with Froebel's stunningly gorgeous Aryan-blonde young daughter, Octavia. Soon, they are married.

However, getting engaged to and marrying Octavia does not stop Albrecht from noticing their neighbor, one Als Flodeen (Kristina Söderbaum, a Chronically Killed Actor in German cinema of the era.) Als is just as Aryan as Octavia and just as gorgeous. However, while Octavia is the Nazi ideal of German womanhood—quiet, nurturing, supportive—Als is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who likes to do stuff like go skinnydipping, or shoot arrows at a target on a beach, while riding a horse and wearing a swimsuit. Eventually, the reason why Als is such a energetic free spirit is revealed: she has a terminal illness, and is determined to live it up while she can.

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Tropes:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Als does it for both of them after she accidentally falls into his arms while they're wrestling with a horse.
    Als: We love each other, my friend, and it will be terrible...terrible.
  • Betty and Veronica: Octavia and Als are both beautiful. But Octavia is tall and slender and is a demure, proper German woman, while Als is shorter and curvy and fun loving and likes to swim in the nude. Octavia lampshades this in one scene where she grouses about how men gawk at Als when she walks down the street.
  • Cast Full of Rich People: Albrecht can just sail around the world whenever he wants, it seems. Octavia and Als live in neighboring mansions on the coast, and go riding around the countryside on horseback whenever they're bored. (This film was produced in 1944 when Germans were starting to really suffer as the war turned bad.)
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  • Conversation Cut: Albrecht is telling his friend Matthias that it's time to tell Octavia, "Octavia, will you be my wife?". Cut to Octavia as it becomes apparent that Albrecht is doing just that. She happily accepts.
  • Dances and Balls: Everyone goes to a fancy masquerade ball. Albrecht recognizes his wife immediately, but Octavia gets irritated when she sees him paying attention to Als yet again.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Als is introduced swimming nude in the lake, grabbing on to Albrecht's rowboat for a lift. She's established as vivacious and bold.
  • Go into the Light: As Als looks out her window, the front gate of her mansion changes to something more like the pearly gates, with a bright sun peeking from clouds over the ocean. The camera moves out towards the setting sun, and Als croaks.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: A lot of rain in the scenes where Albrecht is in the hospital suffering from typhus, while Als is laid up at home, dying from...whatever she's dying of.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Octavia gets annoyed by how men's heads turn when Als goes walking down the street.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Interestingly, while Als certainly spends a lot of time in conventionally feminine clothes (a swimsuit, slips), she sometimes wears a tuxedo and top hat as riding gear. That's how she dresses for the costume ball. As Als lays dying in her bedroom, Albrecht is also laid up in the hospital with typhus. That's why Octavia dresses as her husband, complete with fake mustache, and rides by Als's window, to raise her spirits. Note also that it's Octavia, not Albrecht, who sends flowers when Als falls ill, and it's Octavia, not Albrecht, who throws a rose in the ocean after Als's ashes have been scattered.
  • The Last Dance: When her doctor tells her to take it easy and stop doing stuff like swimming and horseback riding and archery, Als refuses. She talks about how her mother, who apparently had whatever hereditary disease Als has, shut herself up in a room and denied herself of pleasures and died young anyway.
    • This is the scene where a creepy bit of Nazi propaganda comes in, as Als talks about how life that can't be enjoyed is not worth living, and even mentions how she once put down her favorite dog after the dog got old and couldn't enjoy life. The connection with the Nazi euthanasia program is hard to miss.
  • Love Triangle: Albrecht marries Octavia but falls in love with Als anyway.
  • Meet Cute: Albrecht is paddling a rowboat out on the lake when two hands poke up out of nowhere and grab the back end of his rowboat. It's Als, who's swimming naked, and grabs onto his rowboat for a lift.
  • Oblivious to Love: Octavia never does pick up on how Matthias is hopelessly in love with her.
  • Old Retainer: Gitte, maid to Octavia's family, who it seems has served them since before Octavia was born and thinks of her as a daughter.
  • Scenery Censor: When Octavia takes off her dress, a chair is placed so that her rear end is not exposed to the camera.
  • Skinnydipping: Als is swimming nude in the lake when she first meets Albrecht. (Söderbaum is clearly at least topless. German cinema of the era was more liberal about nudity than just about any other country.)
  • Tearjerker: Poor beautiful Als. She dies!
  • Title Drop: Albrecht and Matthias talk about how Octavia is making a "great sacrifice" for him. (It's not really clear what that sacrifice is, unless he means not divorcing him for canoodling with another woman.)
  • Toplessness from the Back: Octavia is shown this way when she takes off her dress after the dance.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: The movie never says just what it is that Als is dying of. The excuse is given that she's suffering from something she picked up in "the tropics", but that's not it, since Als apparently got it from her mother and malaria obviously isn't inheritable (and recurrences are generally less serious than the initial infection anyway). Whatever it is, it's the typical Victorian Novel Disease, with Als still looking beautiful and with her hair always carefully styled even as she lays in her bed dying.
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