Top positive review
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A very good - even addictive - film that could have been greater
on 8 July 2013
One thing's for sure, this film alone could convert anyone to Beethoven, and in my case it did. I bought it over a year ago and have watched it anywhere between half a dozen and a dozen times. I've literally lost count now. Gary Oldman's performance is as good as you would expect from this world-class actor, he makes Beethoven thoroughly engaging and sympathetic even while revealing him as the arrogant, proud, suspicious and indeed intimidating human being he almost certainly was. His excellent performance here (mostly nuanced with occasional eruptions of his trademark fire) was worthy of at least an Oscar nomination but this was the same year as Forrest Gump dominated the Academy Awards so that just wasn't happening. A shame.
The score is wonderful (all Beethoven's) with the individual pieces being very well selected. His music runs through each scene in so seamless and graceful a way that, after watching it just once or twice, you will always associate the music with certain scenes and images. "Emperor" will always make me think of Johanna Reiss opening the famous 'Immortal Beloved' letter through which Beethoven finally pours out all of his most honest and most romantic feelings. "Emperor", as you may or may not know, is the snappy name for Ludwig's chart-topping hit of the times, (deep breath here) "Adagio un poco moto - III. Rondo. Allegro (excerpt) from Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op.73".
There are many scenes that are very touching and sweet, others that reveal Beethoven as a bully. So a complicated man, then.
I should probably add that this film must be taken at face value, with a pinch or two of salt and an open mind. Because, as I'm sure other reviewers must have mentioned, it is based on the viewpoint of Beethoven's apparent friend, one Dr. Anton Schindler. A viewpoint that has been questioned many times down the years. That doesn't mean that one should leap from ones seat, holler, "Lies, lies, it's all LIES!" and eternally ignore it on this basis. If you did you'd be denying yourself a very finely crafted piece of entertainment of a kind that is rarely seen these days. Entertainment - not documentary. Most of this film gives an interpretation of Beethoven's life rather than the 'real picture' of it. But that is what I believe the best biopics do.
So I love this film but I can't say, in all honesty, that I believe it to be flawless. I can't help wishing that it had focused slightly less on Beethoven's romantic and sexual affairs (which dominate here) and more on Beethoven's music production, the richer sides of his eruptive personality, his politics (crucial when considering his art) and the times he lived in (just nuts). There were a few scenes dealing with the violent politics of his times that were certainly effective, such as the one in which poor Julia (Giulietta Guicciardi) was victimised, and yet some parts still felt rushed. The director seemed reluctant to do more than lightly brush a hand over these subjects rather than exploring them in a meaningful way. But then perhaps if he had done so fewer people would have watched it. Also, one other criticism, the female 'love/sex-interest' characters were just a little similar too each other. For me at least they seemed to blend into each other almost, with the exception of the always excellent Isabella Rosselini as Anna Marie Erdödy who really should have been given more and better lines.
Personally speaking, I'm all for a new film of Beethoven's life and times, with Gary Oldman (or a lesser known actor of equal strength and purpose) playing the role of the mature Beethoven and a younger talent playing the young, driven and 'sexier' romantic. So much has been written both on and by Ludwig Van Beethoven that surely some bright spark out there with the passion and vision could create something even more substantial. Immortal Beloved, though a pleasure, is fast becoming an old film. I'd love to see a fresh and more satisfying take.
FYI, for a better understanding of the many sides of Beethoven's personality you can find a copy of his complete letters easily online. It makes for very good reading. Firstly, you'll find that his love of humanity seemed to run just as deep as his occasional grumpy misanthropy, both sides seemingly bursting out of him in passionate bouts only to fade off again just as soon. Secondly, they are a lot more entertaining than you may think. The copy I have is often both hilarious and moving on the same page (my God this man liked his wine). It's all a bit, "I-love-you-No-I-hate-you-No-I-love-you-again-No-actually-I-mean-the-Devil-take-you!-No-wait-come-back-please-buy-me-nice-things-again-Thanks-for-the-lovely-wine-Oh-and-I-almost-forgot-you-owe-me-money-Ha-Ha-Oh-God-I-m-deaf-How-did-that-happen-Damn-and-blast-my-wretched-life! e.t.c. And that's just the letters to his friends. The letters to his female friends (lovers? Who knows?) are beautiful yet equally mad and confusing (as this film testifies). But always poetically so. Ross and Rachel eat your heart out. Mozart's are funny too, though grubbier. To be read along with 'Amadeus' (1984) and a good wine.