Immortal Beloved (1994)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Gary Oldman, Jeroen Krabbé, Isabella Rosselini
Extras: Commentary Track, 2 Documentaries, Theatrical Trailer
When Ludwig Van Beethoven died on March 29, 1827, over 20,000 people were present at his funeral in Währing paying tribute to this singular musical genius – but he has not always been so popular. Ever since his passing however, his work has inspired musicians all over the world and it is still unforgotten. Few people however know about the real man that was Beethoven, and Columbia TriStar’s film "Immortal Beloved" is finally paying proper tribute to his music and his life. The film uses an interesting myth surrounding Ludwig Van Beethoven to create an evocative film that is full of memorable images. Beethoven wrote three love letters to a person he called his "Immortal Beloved" and the film picks up this element for a compelling story that shows us Beethoven, the man and composer.
On his deathbed Beethoven (Gary Oldman) writes a testament that declares his "Immortal Beloved" as the only heir. The enigmatic letter is found shortly after his death and questions arise as to who this ominous heir is. Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé) his long time friend takes it upon himself to find the mysterious lover to have the testament executed. He goes back in time and meets with the women Beethoven loved on his quest and leads the viewer into the past of Beethoven’s life and work. We learn about his hidden passions, his fears and many of the mysteries surrounding his work.
Eventually Schindler finds clues that lead him to who he suspects is the "Immortal Beloved" and learns just how tragic Beethoven’s life has been and how torn the composer must have been on the inside.
"Immortal Beloved" is an inspired film that is rattling viewers’ emotions quite a bit and at the same time invites to re-evaluate your own place in life. From the beginning director Bernard Rose decided to create a film that uses Beethoven’s music as a backdrop for the story and gradually built images and scenes on top of the music. The result is a masterful and extremely tasteful plunge into the world of one of the world’s greatest musical talents.
With mesmerizing images we witness how Beethoven’s live was shaken by his beliefs, his disappointments, his frustration and most importantly the fact that he lost his hearing. It is filled with images you will never forget. Images that burn themselves into the viewer’s memory, as we start to understand the tragedy and sadness that filled this man’s life. We learn how it found its way into his music while he was alienating himself from the rest of the world out of fear and insecurity. There is a scenes when Beethoven is playing the piano all by himself. At first he covers the lid and plays blindly. It is only when he slowly puts his head on the piano’s wood body to listen to the resonance that we understand that he is in fact deaf and unable to hear the beautiful music he writes for the world.
In another scene we witness how he is scoffed and laughed at while conducting a concert, once again without hearing that most of the orchestra is playing out of tune and time.
These are extremely powerful and dramatic moments that eloquently make the viewer familiar with the almost absurd situation that the world’s greatest composer is unable to hear music. More interestingly I think it is worth noting that Beethoven wrote some of his most influential pieces while being deaf, a feat that all by itself speaks for his pure genius.
The film uses Beethoven himself to explain the meaning of his music and after seeing this film I am sure you will never listen to his music the way you did before. The simplicity with which it is conveyed in the film is remarkable and the emotional effect could not be higher. In a short conversation for example, Beethoven tells Schindler the meaning of one of his pieces. "A man is trying to reach his lover… This… is the sound of his agitation!" And all of a sudden Schindler understands the whole scope of Beethoven’s work. More importantly, this key scene in the film opens a door for the viewer and all of a sudden we understand how personal Beethoven’s music is. Despite all the theoretical analysis that has been done in the past, Beethoven used his music as a very personal language to get directly into people’s hearts. "This is the power of music… The listener has no choice," he says, and at that moment we know that every note we hear has a strong personal meaning to him. In conjunction with the beautiful pictures it changes the way we listen to each and every note, and as such "Immortal Beloved" is also a phenomenal educational piece of work.
It is impressive to see how actor Gary Oldman is able to successfully cover all facets of characters and personalities in his work. From the down-and out punk musician Sid Vicious and drug dealers, all the way to mad scientists and of course our favorite horror creature, Dracula, the incredibly talented actor has played more diverse roles than most. Appearing as Ludwig Van Beethoven in this film now adds a new side to his impressions and I am tempted to say, it is one of his best performances ever. He is supported by an incredible cast that brings out all the nuances in Beethoven’s personality and makes it clear that Beethoven is not the animal he seems at times, but a very tragic figure. A man who is trapped and frightened by his own deafness that also prevents him to enjoy the music he gives the world. Especially Isabella Rossellini is putting so much fervor and dignity in her part that we immediately accept her as she becomes the balancing part in Beethoven’s life. Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbé gives a phenomenal performance alongside Gary Oldman and presents us with a believable and very human, tormented character that ultimately holds the film together.
"Immortal Beloved" is a special edition from Columbia TriStar Home Video. It features the film’s original <$PS,widescreen> presentation in a staggering <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer. The image is absolutely clean and of pristine quality without the slightest film artifacts. The picture is incredibly detailed with well-defined edges, but never appears over-enhanced. Shadows are deep and solid, but always maintain plenty of detail, even in the darkest scenes. The color reproduction is breathtaking and entirely faithful. All shades and hues are perfectly reproduced and fleshtones are absolutely natural throughout the film. This is among the best transfers I have seen and it is exemplary for the kind of quality DVD can produce.
While you may be first impressed by the disc’s visual presentation, it is the soundtrack that will blow you away. There is a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix on this disc that is so engulfing that it will bath your entire home theater or living room in music. The mix is so wide and makes fantastic use of the surrounds that you oftentimes feel as if you were sitting right there in the room with the orchestra. The surrounds are not used for effect but mostly to create a lively atmosphere with early reflection reverbs that simulate the acoustics of a live performance. The instruments are so well placed that you can immediately place them in space with closed eyes. At other times instruments are so subtly placed that notes seem to physically linger in the room. Look out for the scene when Beethoven plays the piano by himself. Listen as the sound of the piano is surrounding you as if you were sitting right in front of the piano yourself. It is an enchanting experience that adds incredibly to the music of the film, which ultimately drives the entire story. The music itself has been brought to life by Georg Solti and the London Orchestra.
The disc also contains two interesting documentaries that shed more light on how the actors and the director felt about the material and how they tried to approach this ambitious project. Especially "Beloved Beethoven" delivers insightful interviews with many of the film’s participants. When you’re done with these, make sure not to miss the director’s commentary that is also part of this spectacular release. His opening remarks about removing the music from the Columbia and Icon logo instantaneously put you in the mood for the commentary to come. One that is extremely insightful into Rose’s understanding of Beethoven’s work and his own interpretations. A Spanish language track and Spanish subtitles can also be found on this release as well a the movie’s theatrical trailer, cast & crew biographies and production notes.
After watching "Immortal Beloved" you will know that the music is the key to Beethoven’s life and especially the last minutes of the film will leave you dazed as you try to put your own emotions back in place. The finale with the great performance of his Ninth Symphony, the Choral, will take you into an emotional state that makes Beethoven so real, alive and tangible, that the film’s closing moments are all the more tragic and personally touching. While watching the film it is also important to remember that most of what you see has really happened. Even subtle nuances, like Beethoven conducting the Choral and unaware of the applauding audience turns his back on them until someone takes him by the arm and turns him around, are reported facts and actually happened.
"Immortal Beloved" is a musical and cinematic masterpiece. It is surprising that the film has never received any Oscar Nomination for its stunning portrayals and the superior achievement of director Bernard Rose, who practically composed a movie rather than directed one. Columbia TriStar Home Video is giving us a truly stellar release with this special edition of "Immortal Beloved" and I would like to entrust this disc to you with my highest praises.