Dir: Agnieszka Holland. UK-Hung. 2006. 104mins.
With Copying Beethoven,workmanlike director Agnieska Holland partiallyredeems herself for such embarrassing earlier Toronto misfires like Total Eclipse (1995) - will anyoneever forget the silliness of ultra-American teen Leonardo DiCaprioas French poet Arthur Rimbaud' - but only partially.
Movies thatcentre on classical music, of course, have a built-in manipulatorypower; that's why there are so many of them. But while this new effort playsthat card to the fullest, it's never as consistently involving as it needs tobe. Still, the music - primarily the NinthSymphony - is as intensely moving ever and Ed Harris always gloriouslycommands whatever character he is asked to inhabit, even if he has to wear a sillywig and walk around with an ear trumpet.
Theatricalprospects seem limited, but the film should fare well on DVD and TV, especiallyin countries like Japan, where Beethoven's Ninthis especially revered. Upscale film festival programmers looking to pleaseundemanding culture lovers should also give it a look. Copying Beethoven reaches San Sebastian after Toronto
The story focuseson the maestro's struggles to complete his most famous symphony, his magnum opus.The battle won, Holland follows up with that staple of the misunderstood geniusgenre, the public's incomprehension of his late work (or as one doltishcharacter, who prefers new science to music, puts it bluntly: "Who listens tothis stuff any more'").
Straightforwardbiopic genre conventions rule from beginning to end, with the comely additionof the young Anna Holz (Kruger), no mention of whocan be found in any standard work on the composer but who serves as a kind oflove interest. A budding composer herself who is anxious to break gender taboos,she becomes Beethoven's copyist and comes in for most of his abuse. We know forsure we're in speculative territory when this apparently super-spunky23-year-old takes the liberty of changing a key from B major to B minor inBeethoven's manuscript, before she's even met the master.
After the triumphof the Ninth's premiere, the filmseeks other complications to continue its forward movement, and Holland comesto focus more on what Anna learns from the virtually moribund Beethoven, whomthe film has reformed into a demanding but loving mentor. Here Copying Beethoven is at its strongest,especially in the composer's poetic and moving talk of the spiritual valuesassociated with music, though the sentiments occasionally flirt with sententiousness.
The acting isnever quite convincing as it needs to be. Ed Harris, as Beethoven in wild-manmode, is always fun to watch, although some of the scriptwriters' choices seemanachronistic at best, vulgar at worst. Trying to outrage the copyist at theirfirst meeting, for example, would the divine genius really have mooned at herwhile asking whether The Moonlight Sonatawas her favorite piano work of his'
Diane Kruger isas stunningly lovely as she was in Troyand Merry Christmas but herperformance is stiff and mono-dimensional. Other supporting characters are onlyserviceable at best.
Production designis thoroughly professional and gives an authentic early 19th-century feel tothe film, if not particularly noteworthy.
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
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Stephen J Rivele
Stephen J Rivele