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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Bernard Rose
Columbia TriStar Home Video 12/94 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R - scenes of violence, sexuality
Here is a passionate and transfixing screen biography of Ludwig van Beethoven, who believed "music should strike a fire from a man." The film is propelled by a variety of soul-stirring passages from the prolific German composer's repertoire.
Following Beethoven's death in 1827, an undelivered letter in his hand addressed to "Immortal Beloved" is discovered. His longtime secretary Anton Felix Schindler takes it upon himself to track down this person to whom Beethoven has willed his fortune.
He meets with Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, the woman to whom the composer dedicated the "Moonlight Sonata." She recounts the onset of Beethoven's deafness and his refusal to subscribe to the conventional dictates of society.
Schindler also talks with Countess Anna Maria Erdody who provided a sanctuary for the musician during a difficult period of his life. Schindler's investigations next lead to Johanna, the widow of Beethoven's younger brother. The secretary recalls the composer's futile attempt to turn her son into a musical prodigy.
Bernard Rose has written and directed Immortal Beloved with a heightened sensitivity to the flashes of feeling and the flights of fantasy in Beethoven's inimitable creations. Bravo to Sir George Solti, who as music director has chosen a wonderful crosscut of selections from the composer's repertoire.
In Arabic, the word for absurdity means not being able to hear. Gary Oldman effectively conveys the ways in which Beethoven's physical impairment frustrated him and cut him off from others. Valeria Golino, Isabella Rossellini, Johanna Ter Steege, and Jeroen Krabbe are excellent as the supporting players in this biodrama.
In the film's most memorable and glorious scene, which is accompanied by the surging "Ode to Joy," Beethoven flashes back to his childhood when he was brutally beaten by his father. One night, he senses his father coming for him and escapes from the house through a window. He runs through a forest to a tranquil moonlit pond where he lies down in the water and loses himself in the beauty and immensity of the star-filled sky. In Soul Mates Thomas Moore challenges us to see our souls as being "as huge, deep, mysterious and awe-inspiring as the night sky." Here in one of the most soul-filled images ever put on film, Beethoven does just that. And so can we. We only need break free and, filled with joy, let our spirits soar.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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