Sony // 1994 // 121 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // October 20th, 1999
The genius behind the music. The madness behind the man. The untold love story of Ludwig van Beethoven.
This is a story woven together from many widely known facts about Beethoven's life as well as the active imagination of Director Bernard Rose. Using many of Beethoven's musical masterpieces to punctuate events Bernard Rose gives us one possibility for the answer to the question, "Who was Beethoven's Immortal Beloved?" This beautifully put together DVD in addition answers the question for many of us as to "Why do we collect DVDs?"
The story begins with Beethoven's death followed by his funeral attended by the mourning masses. Afterward his last will and testament are found by Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé, No Mercy, The Prince of Tides, Ever After) who reads that all of Beethoven's fortune is to be left to his "immortal beloved." Determined to find the rightful heir Schindler travels to see several woman in an attempt to investigate which of Beethoven's acquaintances could be or know of the true identity of the immortal beloved. That Beethoven left writings referring to an immortal beloved is a fairly well-established fact among historians...where Bernard Rose takes the story many would call pure fiction. The bottom line here, however, is that we as viewers are treated to a film that stands on its own merits as being worthy of being part of our collections.
If you can get in tune with the idea that this story is a "possibility" of what may have happened and not that it is being presented as the ultimate declaration of what actually happened you will enjoy this film immensely. To begin with, the music is all taken from the masterpieces that Beethoven wrote and the Director attempted to tie the mood of the music to the events that Beethoven lived through. In the scene where Beethoven and Schindler meet, Beethoven himself gives us the true mission of this film; to find in the music the mental state of the composer. Rose gives us foremost his interpretation of the music as it relates to Beethoven's experiences, sometimes with astonishing clarity as in the "Ode to Joy" chapter.
And please keep in mind that while Beethoven's music on the surface often sounds quite pleasing, there is always an undercurrent that reaches into your soul and reminds you of things often far darker and more disturbing. Therefore, you should prepare yourself for some unsettling scenes from Beethoven's life/childhood in this film. As for the music itself...the particular recordings that Rose used were masterpieces in and of themselves. The music has the right touch of emotion and the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound makes you feel that you're sitting in the middle of the orchestra as it's being played. And if this wasn't enough you have one of the best performances ever put on film by Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker's Dracula, JFK, Air Force One) as Ludwig van Beethoven. Every time Oldman walks into a scene you find yourself riveted to what he's going to do next. Even when he's unpleasant you find yourself forgiving and even looking for a reason to be understanding of his abrupt and coarse behavior. In one of the DVD extras we even find out that Oldman spent months learning to play the most difficult piano piece in order to add realism to the film. It worked...Another interesting thing is that it would appear from the documentaries on the DVD that Oldman is not a dynamic or hot-tempered person at all, which makes his acting job all the more impressive in comparison.
The picture is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio enhanced for 16x9 TVs and I must say that Columbia did another wonderful job transferring this to DVD. They also hit the extras just right this time. There is a "Beloved Beethoven" Documentary and an Original Featurette (which is just a shorter documentary) that really add to the understanding of what the film was trying to do, as well as giving some insight into the actors themselves. Also included is a commentary by the Director that is well worth listening to -- it does have some extended periods of silence, but when Rose talks you learn more about the movie from his perspective. I also found a Theatrical Trailer and some Talent Files which include information on Beethoven, but again I was unable to find the Production Notes that are advertised on the DVD cover...
My complaints are small this time around. As noted...I was unable to find the Production Notes, but I'm not sure what they would have added to my experience here. I also had the annoying task of changing the audio to 5.1 through the main menu rather than pressing one button on my trusty remote and I had to turn off the subtitles again. But the hassle of juggling remotes at the beginning of the movie was well rewarded by the remainder of the experience.
If you can keep from tangling yourself up worrying about what's fact and what is fiction regarding Beethoven's life, then this is a DVD that you should treat yourself to and buy for your collection.
Review content copyright © 1999 Margo Reasner; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Original Featurette
* Director Bernard Rose's Commentary
* "Beloved Beethoven" Documentary
* Talent Files
* Theatrical Trailer
* Production Notes
* Interactive Menus