The movie...ahhh, the movie. My personal opinion...a masterpiece. It affects me to such a degree every time I experience it, that I always cannot leave without deep emotion on my face. How would you feel if someone opened your mind to something in an entirely new light? You never saw it that way until they showed you. This is what the film does for me. Rich cinematography, luscious locations...some untouched, that still look the way they would have looked back in Beethoven's day. A tragic love story in the best sense.
Who was Beethoven's Immortal Beloved? No one knows. But after his death a letter was found in his own handwriting, written to someone only referred to as "My Immortal Beloved." Beethoven Scholars have argued for centuries as to who this woman could be. The director, Bernard Rose, gives his interpretation of who she was, with much care in making it seem plausible. For us non Beethoven Scholars, it's simply a beautiful, tragic love story...a story that cannot help but endure the test of time.
Gary Oldman, doesn't just play Beethoven...he is Beethoven...or at least a very strong interpretation of what the man must have been like. When I watch the film, I don't see Gary Oldman...I see Beethoven. A man torn apart by hardships. Beaten by his father because he was not as brilliant a child prodigy as say, Mozart was...more that he was stubborn and unwilling to play the popular tripe of the times. Oldman shows us many sides to Beethoven...the youth, in which he is close to his brothers and a bit of a scoundrel with the ladies. But somewhere along the line, he changes into an angry, bitter old man who is mad at the world. The fact that someone like him, who should have had perfect hearing that should be, as he puts it, "a higher degree in me," is deaf and cannot hear his own music when he plays it...at least, not the way we hear it. Beethoven's deafness was not the kind where you hear silence. He heard noise...although this is speculative, many believe he suffered from a condition that caused his hearing to become more and more painful as the years followed.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Beethoven lowers his head onto a piano so he can hear the vibrations more powerfully. And with that he begins to play Piano Sonata No. 14 (quasi una fantasia) in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2...Moonlight Sonata, I. Adagio sostenuto. In the film it is played about twice as fast as it is normally played, never losing its allure in the process. Director Bernard Rose wanted to do this simply because he felt it grabs you more intensely when played a bit faster. An amazing scene that should be watched again and again.
Anton Felix Schindler, played brilliantly by Jeroen Krabbe, was the man who worked closest with Beethoven, at times being treated quite badly by the maestro. Jeroen plays the man as being very submissive...most of the time we only see what he's feeling through body language and eye gestures. As Ludwig discusses his music with Schindler during the very first time they meet, the look on Schindler's face as he listens to Beethoven is like a revelation...never has he heard or felt such passion and pain. He is drawn to tears. A most powerful scene that evokes the human spirit. The brilliance of Beethoven is unquestionable.
Director Bernard Rose gives many wonderful and interesting visual interpretations through Beethoven's music. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, I. Allegro con brio is used during the shelling of Vienna by Napoleon. But perhaps the most remembered is Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, IV. "Ode To Joy," in which we witness a young Ludwig, escaping from his sadistic father through his bedroom window on the 2nd floor and running away, lying on his back in a nearby lake at night. The pullback shot from straight up shows us the stars glittering all around him from the reflection in the water and continues to pull back until Beethoven disappears and is one with the stars themselves...quite symbolic.
To me, this a very special movie. The fact that the director may have taken some poetic licensing to tell the story seems justified when you are engrossed in the entire product. But many people, still to this day, dislike the movie because of that reason. But where the film, Amadeus, was mostly based on fictional storytelling, Immortal Beloved is based more on fact, which is what got it into trouble and why it was met with so many mixed reviews. I personally feel these people are just missing out on a great film and great storytelling at its best. But you be the judge...see Immortal Beloved. I guarantee you'll never be able to listen to Beethoven's music quite the same way ever again.
"Go on loving me. Ever yours. Ever mine. Forever." - Gary Oldman as Ludwig Van Beethoven
The film opens with Beethoven's death. Beethoven, frail and pointing towards heaven as lightning strikes, takes his final breath. This is reportedly true by an eyewitness account of the time. Afte his funeral, Jerome Krobbe's character and Beethoven's brother decide to investigate who the Immortal Beloved was by digging up as much information on the women he loved in his life. They encounter that there are three "suspects"- a divorced Countess with children (Isabella Rossalini in a great performance), Beethoven's brother's wife, or a beautiful piano student of his. The lush cinematography and vibrant location- the film was shot on location in Beethoven's native Austria- enhances the milieu of the film and it's gorgeous to look at. Authentic costumes is another superb element of the film. The scenes of Napoleon's invasion of Vienna are historically accurate as well. Beethoven and Napoleon were contemporaries and initially, tricked by Napoleon's propaganda, Beethoven believed that Napoleon's government was going to open up doors of opportunities for equal rights in a new Enlightenment. But Napoleon's promises were false and he crowned himself Emperor and his reign was totalitarian. This upset Beethoven so much that he tore off the dedication to Napoleon from his Third Symphony (Eroica).
The final portions of the film are probably the best. Beethoven, approaching old age, has trouble with his nephew Karl, who attempts suicide at one point, and is still pining over the woman he loved but could not have. Especially fatalistic was the lost encounter between the two during a rainstorm at a hotel. This is also taken straight from letters that were found and are true to Beethoven's life. Beethoven composes his final symphony- the Ninth- as he remembers his tragic childhood. He conducts the Ninth himself, eventhough he is much older, and dazzles the Vienna public with a bold new creation- the symphony with a chorus (the Ode to Joy). The film uses the music from the symphony very dramatically and effectively, visually and score-wise in the soundtrack. The soundtrack is also available on Amazon.com and is a must buy if you loved the all-Beethoven program featured in the film- his Eroica Symphony, the Moonlight Piano Sonata, The Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, The Kreutzer Violin Sonata and the Emperor Piano Concerto No. 5, which is used brilliantly as the film closes. Beethoven's Immortal Beloved reads the letter that Beethoven wrote to her on the occassion of that fateful night at the hotel, becomes emotional and visits the tomb of Beethoven. This was the actual tomb of Beethoven in Austria that is seen in the film. This film is worth watching time and again, is perfect for music appreciation courses and as already mentioned, a film that cries Oscars but that Oscar was blind to.
Bravo, Mr. Rose!
Bernard Rose's film Immortal Beloved portrays the tumultuous life of the musical genius
Ludwig Van Beethoven and he does so quite beautifully. Read more