-- it just gets recast in the next
It's cold as hell outside, and since the kids will be off to school shortly and work isn't an issue today chez Randal, I figured the wife and I would spend some quality time by romping around the house in a state of undress, misbehaving ourselves.
Thanks to snowy conditions and a ridiculous wind chill, the schools are of course closed, thereby putting the kibosh on our lusty plans. Hence, the permitting of our lunatic offspring to sleep in so I can type this post about a timely flick my sometimes-better-half and I both enjoy -- moi, through my nigh inexhaustible reservoir of syrupy ridiculousness, and her, through constant exposure to my toxic sap. That sounds a wee bit odd, doesn't it. Anyway...
Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest -- for me, the greatest -- composers in the history of human civilization, a pinnacle of profound creative genius. He was also a thoroughly unpleasant man, rude, obstinate, churlish, and thus unquestionably unfamiliar with any concept of love, right? You couldn't be more wrong. He certainly fell in and out of that emotion like the rest of us mere mortals and among the mostly unrequited pining stands out one woman known only to posterity as his Immortal Beloved.
With the incomparable Gary Oldman offering a masterful portrayal of the man himself, writer and director Bernard Rose, despite taking liberties -- albeit plausible ones in an alternate universe kind of way -- with the historical record, crafts a beautiful and moving tale of a love just out of reach.
The film opens with the funeral procession of Beethoven, which was indeed attended by over 20,000 Viennese. Shortly thereafter, we are in a room where the composer's secretary, Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé), is going through his papers. The question of the hour is who gets the music and the money that Beethoven left behind. Since it was stipulated in his will that everything was to be split among his two brothers -- one of whom, Kaspar, is dead -- then it's evident that Karl is to receive the musical and pecuniary remains. Why is there even a discussion in the first place?
Because of you-know-who, that's why. A letter carefully tucked away in a nondescript cabinet, perhaps never sent, carries his final, deathbed will and testament, a final wish that supersedes whatever legalese previously existed. All possessions will go 'to my immortal beloved.'
Despite years of research that have led to various and sundry theories, it's likely, barring the discovery of some heretofore unknown remnant of Beethoven's writings, that we'll never know the identity of this woman. Within the film, Schindler remarks that Beethoven never spoke in detail of such a person, thus hasn't a clue as to who she is and yet, despite the protestations of Beethoven's surviving brother, is determined to find her, the rightful heir to the Beethoven estate, such as it was.
Schindler's first stop is at the palatial estate of Countess Giulietta von Gallenberg (Valeria Golino) where she proceeds, via flashback, to tell us that she was "the great love of Louis' life."
In scoring the film, Rose made an obvious, yet brilliant choice: the music of Beethoven himself. The scene when Countess Guicciardi and her father observe the ever more deaf composer at the piano is spellbinding (trust me -- watch it with your significant other instead of via the YouTube below). Struggling to hear the notes, making a godawful racket, Beethoven places his ear upon the wood. The sad, mellifluous sounds of the Moonlight sonata fill the room as he lifts his head back into the air, the steps of the Countess moving nervously and lovingly towards him. Her hand so close to touching his shoulder as he strikes a heartbreaking chord, tears down her cheeks, she hesitates - well, I'll just let you watch for yourself.
Coming to realize that she wasn't the one, Schindler next tracks down Anna Marie Erdödy (Isabella Rossellini), once a countess adrift in European high society, now home in her native Hungary. She recounts her initial meeting with the composer, a concert where "the world learned of his deafness."
When you see the film, wonder no longer -- that is indeed Oldman himself fingering the fiendishly difficult cadenza of the Emperor concerto. Ouch. Beethoven comes to stay with the Countess and here, while observing preparations for the premiere of the Kreutzer violin sonata, the maestro explains to Schindler the secret of music:
"Music is a dreadful thing."
Is Anna the one? Perhaps, perhaps not. There is one final avenue to explore. No, of course I'm not going to tell you who it is, but here's a bit of the Ninth symphony from a scene near the end of the film.
Come on, you welled up at least a smidgen during the Ode to Joy, didn't you, you cold-hearted bastard. Okay, maybe it was just me.
To be passably familiar with Beethoven's life adds a bit of extra zest to the twist -- no, it's not The Crying Game-esque -- but is not required as the film is wonderfully acted, the score is obviously beautiful and the backdrop of love tries its damnedest to refuse the inviting welcome into mawkish territory -- and to my perception, generally succeeds. On the other hand, if you're a die-hard über-realist to whom all that isn't gritty is by definition maudlin, you'll probably disagree, and Satan help you if that's the case.
Lastly, I would submit that instead of music, love is the dreadful thing, all the more so when one is as passionate as Beethoven was about his art; those passions cannot help but spill over into every facet of life. If you harbor any schmaltz-like tendencies as I, then I can do nothing but recommend this film in the highest.
Monday, February 11, 2008
-- it just gets recast in the next