The life and many loves of French novelist George Sand (1804-67), as depicted in James Lapine's IMPROMPTU, has the feel of a contemporary romantic comedy. This feature debut for Pulitzer Prize-winning stage director Lapine (Sunday in the Park with George) is distinguished by a fine cast,
including Judy Davis as the truly liberated Sand, a woman whose vacillation with respect to men is exceeded only by her passion for them.
The film introduces viewers to Sand's circle of friends, including the painter Eugene Delacroix (Ralph Brown), poet and one-time lover Alfred DeMusset (Mandy Patinkin), and composers Franz Liszt (Julian Sands) and Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant). It is Chopin who captures Sand's heart and is the
object of her determined affection throughout the film. An unassuming man, in continual ill-health, Chopin first encounters the brazen Sand when she steals into his room, hides under his piano, and revels in his music. This takes place during the summer of 1835 at the country estate of the Duke
and Duchess d'Antan (Anton Rodgers and Emma Thompson), where Chopin, Liszt, Delacroix and DeMusset have been invited to enrich the lives of their culture-starved hosts. Sand has quite candidly invited herself and her two young children.
The gathering also includes Liszt's mistress, Marie d'Agoult (Bernadette Peters), and Sand's newly jilted lover, Felicien Mallefille (Georges Corraface), her children's tutor. Consumed with jealousy, Mallefille spends his time threatening any man who looks at Sand, and instigating a duel with
DeMusset. Sand, meanwhile, enlists Marie's help in delivering a note to Chopin. Envious of Sand and feeling neglected by Liszt, Marie passes on the note, but not before removing Sand's name and substituting her own. The fortnight holiday soon comes to an end and Sand, unsuccessful in her efforts
to seduce Chopin but determined win his affection, departs with her children and Mallefille.
Favored by Sarah Kernochan's character-driven screenplay and its elegant French locations, IMPROMPTU gives its actors ample room in which to play. Davis shines as Sand, balancing her decided independence with her desire for heady companionship. Grant's Chopin is a bit overplayed, making him seem
too prudish. Patinkin is credible as the volatile DeMusset, as are Sands as Liszt, Brown as Delacroix, and Corraface as Mallefille. Peters is well-cast as the manipulative, ever-pregnant Marie and Thompson is hilarious as the duchess--a woman with far too much free time. Those performances, along
with the fine music and costumes, help to make this an appealingly offbeat period piece.
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