Wednesday, February 3, 2010

IMMORTAL BELOVED: Blu-ray (Columbia 1994) Sony Home Entertainment

Rarely do biographical films attain a level of exquisiteness in scope and beauty as is the case with Bernard Rose's Immortal Beloved (1994). Comparisons between Milos Forman’s Amadeus and Rose's film – the latter, a lavishly produced life and times of Ludwig van Beethoven - are perfunctory and inevitable. However, all such comparative analyses should begin and end on one simple fact: that both movies deal with musical prodigies and absolute genius.

From that snap analysis, Rose’s filmic excursion proves infinitely more intimate and personal with the utmost reverence and sincerity employed in exploring a multifaceted mystery. In essence the life of Ludwig van Beethoven is a great tragedy; our hero is an embittered, tortured recluse whose enduring melodies are rarified glimpses into the human soul that the composer never heard for himself in all their orchestral glory.

However, Rose is not so much concerned with critiquing Beethoven's skills as an artist. Nor is he particularly interested in providing his audience with a musical chronology of Beethoven's greatest hits; though both the artist and his music get more than their ample do throughout the film's lengthy running time. Moreover, Rose’s screenplay attempts to unearth the very essence of Beethoven - the man.

As such, the film is constructed as three lengthy interrupted flashbacks, loosely strung together with a quest inculcated by Beethoven’s long time friend, Anton Felix Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe). Upon Beethoven’s death it is Schindler’s desire to discover the whereabouts and identity of Beethoven’s mysterious ‘immortal beloved’ – an paramour referred to in passionate correspondences written in Beethoven’s hand.The letters never reached their destination. As far as Schindler is concerned only this ‘beloved’ is responsible for the inspiration that stirred the master to his greatest compositions; hence, only she is entitled to reap the financial rewards by inheriting Beethoven's musical legacy.

To this purpose, Schindler travels throughout the Austrian Empire to become acquainted with the three most likely women of varying backgrounds that Beethoven is rumored to have been a lover to; his first pupil, the precocious Giulietta Guicciardi (Valeria Golina); his most ardent, yet critical admirer - the countess, Anna Marie Erdody (Isabella Rossellini) and Therese Obermayer (Alexandra Pigg), Beethoven's late brother’s embittered wife.All of the aforementioned will supply Schindler with insight into the man he only knew superficially – each will touch his heart in an unimaginable way. As the mystery unravels, the audience is allowed to experience the sublime nirvana that is Beethoven's labyrinthine success – a journey that cuts to the bone of musical genius.

Director, Rose has been blessed with one of the cinema’s truly great chameleon - Gary Oldman as his Beethoven. Although Oldman did not play music, he actually practiced five hours a day to learn proper fingering on the piano, convincing enough for any film purist and/or musicologist alike. Ultimately, what Oldman achieves on the screen is a sublime verisimilitude; a truly haunted performance as a tortured soul that ranks among the greatest acting achievements of his career.

Does the story waver from fact? – undoubtedly; for there is very little in existence on Beethoven's life to sustain the screenplay. 200 years of scholarly research have, as yet, been unable to deduce the actual source of that impassioned letter written in Beethoven’s hand. Perhaps, what is achieved by the film is closer to the truth than anyone might care to admit - but that analysis remains for scholars of music history to debate. At best, Immortal Beloved is an approximation of history. However, as film entertainment, it remains pure perfection created by artisans who clearly have the master and his music in their blood.

Sony Home Entertainment’s Blu-Ray bests its standard DVD - but not by as much as one would expect. It should be pointed out that Sony's standard DVD marked a superb transfer of near reference quality. Colors on the Blu-Ray are more vibrant and richly represented on the Blu-Ray with flesh tones the most noticeable benefactor. The anamorphic widescreen image exhibits refined details, solid black levels, and very clean whites. The Blu-Ray excels in razor sharpness and extolling minute details in costuming and background information. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital; both smooth and pronounced. Extras are regrettably confined to a brief vintage featurette on the making of the film. Nevertheless, highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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