Take a Drink: when you hear “Luigi” instead of Ludvig
Take a Drink: whenever the perspective of the story changes
Take a Drink: for every conquest or affair
Take a Drink: for deafness
Take a Drink: for brotherly love
Take a Drink: for each different Beethoven piece you recognize
Do a Shot: for each possible “Immortal Beloved”
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
This week is Bernard Rose week, with Paperhouse yesterday and several more of this in turns undersung and overrated director’s oeuvre hitting MovieBoozer in the next few days. Why Bernard Rose you say? Because not many directors go from Ebert’s To Watch List to lavish Oscar-baity period dramas to directing cheap, depressing shells of them when he’s not busy with salacious found footage horror.
Imagine Bruce Beresford doing this…
Immortal Beloved was still on the classy end of Rose’s career, and was perhaps the peak of it. It’s as biopic about Beethoven (Gary Oldman), but with an ingenious device. It begins with his funeral, and the historical fact of a subsequent discovery of a second will and testament, leaving all his money and musical rights to his “Immortal Beloved”. History has never established who that person was, but Rose uses his friend and executor’s investigation into it to examine Beethoven’s life through flashback, and the eyes of those who loved him.
Rose also scripted this film, and that structure as well as how he gradually unravels the central mystery as he simultaneously tracks Beethoven’s struggles with his encroaching deafness, fall from grace, and triumphant return with his magnum opus Symphony No. 9 is both clever and extremely engaging.
The acting is generally quite strong, but this is Oldman’s movie, in spite and even because of the fact that it isn’t Beethoven’s. Since he’s always seen through some other characters’ eyes, Oldman essentially gives several subtly differentiated performances- in turn an incorrigible asshole, a seducer, a petty, bitter failure, and an impassioned, transcendent artist.
Basically, Gary Oldman can do fucking everything
This is also Rose’s strongest directorial offering. As always, if you give the man a budget and real locations he delivers a handsome film, and DP Peter Suschitzky shoots every costume and period set sumptuously. Rose outdoes himself in a few sequences, though. The scene where Beethoven attempts to play for a court audience without revealing he’s actually deaf plays like something from a horror film, switching aural perspectives between the hearing audience and the thick silence Beethoven experiences, even as grotesquely contorted faces laugh soundlessly all around him. Even better is the climactic revelation of the Symphony No. 9, intercut with a traumatic moment in his youth. I won’t spoil it further, but it gave me literal goosebumps.
Just like your inappropriate uncle used to.
Why substitute Prague for Vienna, then shoot obvious Prague landmarks, which a lot more people than you give credit for will instantly recognize? That’s relatively minor. More concerning is how the pace grinds to a halt in the second act, when ostensibly the immortal beloved search is abandoned and we learn about Beethoven’s relationship with his nephew. There’s a rhyme and reason to this, but it’s poorly incorporated, and just drags.
The ending, clearly meant to be a big reveal, is certainly surprising, but it’s because it’s poorly supported rather than because Rose expertly misleads us with hidden clues.
Immortal Beloved tackles a biopic of Beethoven in an unconventional manner that doesn’t fully pay off, but is well worth the effort.