The shamelessly popular, shamelessly Oscar-nominated A SONG TO REMEMBER (1945), with Cornell Wilde coughing up blood on the ivories as Chopin, engendered a spate of famous composer agony-epics: Paul Henried as Schumann and Robert Walker as Brahms in SONG OF LOVE, Jean-Pierre Aumont as
Rimsky-Korsakov in SONG OF SCHEHEREZADE, Dirk Bogarde as Liszt in SONG WITHOUT END. IMMORTAL BELOVED, with Gary Oldman shredding the scenery as Beethoven, is a throwback to these clanky, contrived, and unintentionally campy monuments to the intersection of high culture and Hollywood taste.
When Ludwig Van Beethoven died in Vienna in 1827, he left behind a loving last letter addressed to an "immortal beloved" whose true identity has baffled music historians ever since. In the film, Anton Felix Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe), the composer's faithful associate, investigates the various
women in the composer's life in an attempt to find the answer. He first encounters Countess Giulietta Guicciardi (Valeria Golino), the Maestro's piano student, to whom the "Moonlight Sonata" was dedicated; she's been emotionally scarred by a wartime rape. Next up is Countess Anna Maria Erdody
(Isabella Rosellini), who is first seen as a Queen of the Gypsies in the Balkans. Over a tankard, she recounts a sad tale involving the deaths of her children during the Napoleonic siege and her abandonment by the moody Ludwig. Schindler then meets with Beethoven's detested sister-in-law, Johanna
Reiss (Johanna ter Steege), from whom the composer wrested her beloved son Karl (Marco Hofschneider). Beethoven harbored an obsessional love for the boy and tried to turn him into a musical genius, tormenting him with rigorous discipline in a pattern begun by his own abusive father. At the time of
his death (or so the film would have it), he was universally reviled for the tragic death of Karl, and his music was unappreciated.
Despite its CITIZEN KANE structure, IMMORTAL BELOVED is a Hollywood biopic of a very traditional kind, and not a single cliche of the genre is neglected. What distinguishes this movie from its predecessors is the performance of the now reliably over-the-top Gary Oldman, who offers more phony
Continental mannerisms and tic-ridden Great Man flourishes than Paul Muni at his most egregiously hammy. As Beethoven, Oldman never just sits; he's forever posing and perching, pursing his lips in readiness for his next portentous epigram. On his deathbed, he actually intones: "The comedy is
finished." (The fact that Beethoven may actually have uttered those words is no excuse; to modern ears, the line is pure Hollywood.) Meanwhile, the vulpine Krabbe, who incidentally looks a lot more like Beethoven than Oldman does, emotes like an MGM contract player circa 1945.
Director-screenwriter Bernard Rose has taken plenty of melodramatic liberties with the facts, and uses all his modest skills trying to make the film meaningful and stirring. Georg Solti and the London Symphony Orchestra do the music thunderously proud, but the best Rose manages to come up with
is a sappy "Ode to Joy" montage of Beethoven as a child, escaping from his father to the solace of the starry-skied country. (The sentimental imagery is unfortunately reminiscent of some of the more resplendently tacky conceits of Ken Russell's TOMMY.) Maurizio Millenotti's elegant costumes are
the best thing in the movie and, if nothing else, Golino and Rossellini make perfect models for the long, lean Empire line of their gowns. Neither of them exhibits much in the way of acting chops, although Rossellini tries to call up some of the romantic grandeur of her mother, Ingrid Bergman, in
her later scenes. (Violence, nudity, adult situations, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: The shamelessly popular, shamelessly Oscar-nominated A SONG TO REMEMBER (1945), with Cornell Wilde coughing up blood on the ivories as Chopin, engendered a spate of famous composer agony-epics: Paul Henried as Schumann and Robert Walker as Brahms in SONG O… (more)