In this “Prime Time” feature, Kluge explores a remarkable chapter of European colonial history: the much disputed fate of Austrian Emperor Maximilian (1832-1867) in Mexico.
At the instigation of French Emperor Napoleon III., Maximilian let himself be crowned Emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867. But his time in office took a fatal turn: Maximilian was captured and executed at the command of Benito Juarez. The feature begins with images of the firing squad and the dead emperor.
How did the Mexicans react to the invasion of an Austrian emperor? Who was Benito Juarez? Kluge talks to director Dana Rodberg about the Mexican perspective on Maximilian’s fate. She explains that Emperor Maximilian was a foreign object in Mexico. Benito Juarez, on the other hand, a provincial farmer whose appearance was thoroughly Mexican and an “anti-thesis of the European ideal of beauty,” corresponded much better to Mexican mentality.
The second conversation with playwright Heiner Müller allows for a different look at the circumstances of Maximilian’s fate. Müller describes Napoleon III as “director of history,” who put Maximilian on stage in Mexico. Maximilian was still a pubescent young man, who let himself be convinced that he had a humanitarian mission in Mexico.
The concept of “staging” reminds Müller of his trip to Bucharest and his visit of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s insane construction projects (“Babylon-Hollywood”) during his time as dictator of the Socialist Republic Romania from 1965 to 1989.
In the oldest orthodox church in Bucharest, Müller meets a Romanian woman who hears him speak French and asks where one could find the temple of Jeanne d’Arc in France. She sees her as the savior of monarchy, and considers monarchy Romania’s salvation. Müller finds this perspective convincing, since a direct transition from dictatorship to democracy in Romania would not be desirable: “what people think of as democracy here … it's a complete disaster” (Müller). Kluge asks: Does the century need detention, does it need to be repeated? Müller agrees and suggests monarchy as an adequate transition period in Romania. In his opinion, a similar need exists in Russia as well.