Thursday, June 08, 2023

Beethoven 250: the last piano bagatelles: 6 Bagatelles Op. 126 (Piotr Anderszewski, 2008)

From: Ludwig van Beethoven: 6 Bagatellen: 6. Bagatelle: Andante amabile e con moto. From Jan Caeyers: Beethoven: A Life (2020). Caeyers discovers the final dedication and love confession to Josephine in Beethoven's last composition for the piano. Maynard Solomon has a different theory of the immortal beloved, but all can agree with Solomon when he says that "even at the end, the piano remained Beethoven's most intimate means of communicating with his inner self". Please do click on the image to enlarge it.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
Beethoven 250 continued.

From: CD 26/80  Piano Bagatelles Opp. 33, 119, 126 + Other bagatelles.
Tracks 1924: Piotr Anderszewski, 2008:

6 Bagatellen Op. 126 (1825)

1. Andante con moto in G, 3'07
2. Allegro in G minor, 2'44
3. Andante in E-flat, 3'15
4. Presto in B minor, 3'55
5. Quasi allegretto in G, 2'40
6. Presto, cut time then Andante amabile e con moto, E♭ major, 4'41


" 'Bagatelles' can best be defined as 'musical aphorisms'. They are concise, pithy expressions of an original, highly personal, and often surprising character: profound wisdom in a nutshell. The concise format also puts more resources at the composer's disposal (remembering that a work's length should be inversely proportional to the quantity of musical material), allowing for the deployment of rhetorical devices such as antithesis, paradox, understatement, ambiguity, and irony. Beethoven was in his element and 
 after his work on the colossal Ninth Symphony  most likely glad of the opportunity for some lighthearted diversion on a smaller scale. "

" Yet despite his bagatelles' whimsical nature, and however experimental and unconventional their technique and frameworks, these dissociations belie an underlying logic. In this sense, the opus 126 bagatelles differ markedly from their opus 119 predecessors, which seem rather disjointed by comparison. The latter bear the stamp of their haphazard origin and create the impression that they are interchangeable or that their ordering is arbitrary. The opposite is true of the six bagatelles composed in 1824. Beethoven himself described them as a 'cycle,' with a rhetorical structure, a robust tonal progression, and a latent, "subthematic" cohesion that, while not perceived directly or audibly, is experienced subconsciously. "

" The circle was now fully complete. Almost half a century after receiving his first childhood spanking for daring to improvise at the keyboard, and decades since he had electrified audiences with his wild fantasies as a pianistic demigod, Beethoven could now finally surrender to the tantalizing pleasures of scintillating ideas and vivid imagination. Trusting in his highly developed intuition for structure and proportion and free from any desire for excess or vanity, Beethoven could finally give free rein to his musical ideas 
 a luxury that had cost him over one hundred opus numbers and a musician's lifetime. "

" To complete the cycle well and truly, one final remark. The sixth bagatelle, Beethoven's very last piano work, bears the telling tempo and character indication 'Andante amabile e con moto' and is based on the all too familiar motif from both the Andante favori and the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte. "

" Skeptics may dismiss this similarity as pure coincidence. But even so: what a beautiful one it is! "

From: Jan Caeyers : Beethoven : A Life (Beethoven : Een Biografie 2009, revised in 2020). Translated  in English by Brent Annable. University of California Press / Beethoven-Haus Bonn, 2020. pp. 466

NB. AA: Each Beethoven biographer has a theory about the "Immortal Beloved", and Caeyers might come closest to the truth, examining all alternatives before proposing Josephine von Brunsvik in Chapter 45 "From the 'Immortal Beloved' to a 'Distant Beloved'. Caeyers also discusses Minona von Stackelberg (1813
1897), perhaps the daughter of Ludwig and Josephine. A tragic story anyway for everyone involved.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Der Passfälscher / The Forger

Maggie Peren: Der Passfälscher / The Forger (DE/LU 2022) starring Louis Hofmann as Cioma Schönhaus.

Väärentäjä / Förfalskaren.
    DE/LU © 2022 Dreifilm GmbH, Amour Fou Luxembourg sàrl mit Network Movie Film- und Fernsehproduktion GmbH & Co. KG, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) (Mainz) und Arte Deutschland TV GmbH (Ettelbrück). P: Alexander Fritzemeyer, Martin Kosok mit Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, Bady Minck, Dietrich Kluge, Jutta Lieck-Klenke.
    D+SC: Maggie Peren – based on the memoir by Cioma Schönhaus: Der Passfälscher. Die unglaubliche Geschichte eines jungen Grafikers, der im Untergrund gegen die Nazis kämpfte. Hrsg. von Marion Neiss. Scherz Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-502-15688-3. DP: Christian Stangassinger – colour – 2.39:1 – shooting format: Digital AlexaMiniLF ProRes S35 16:9 3.2K – Verleih digital. Szenenbild: Eva-Maria Stiebler. Costume designer: Diana Dietrich. Make-up: Katja Alexis-Reinert. M: Mario Grigorov. M supervision: Superstrings, Carolin Heiss. S: André Bendocchi-Alves. Mixeur: Loïc Collignon. ED: Robert Sterna. Casting: An Dorthe Braker, Karimah El-Giamal, Bady Minck. C:
    Louis Hofmann – Cioma
    Jonathan Berlin – Det Kassriel
    Luna Wedler – Gerda
    Nina Gummich – Frau Peters
    André Jung – Herr Dietrich
    Marc Limpach – Franz Kaufmann
Dreharbeiten: 18 Jan–2 March 2021 Bayern und Luxemburg.
    Loc: Bavaria Filmstadt – Villa Höppner, Haus Kreitmeier (Munich/DE), Parktheater im Kurhaus Göggingen (Augsburg/DE), Arcelor Mittal Schifflange (LU), Epicerie (LU), Café du Viaduc (LU), Casemates (LU), By Jaco (LU) Centre de la Croix Rouge (LU), Fond de Gras/Minettpark (LU).
    Language: German
    116 min
    Erstverleih: Z Verleih AG (Berlin).
    US distributor: Kino Lorber.
    Uraufführung: 13 Feb 2022 Berlin International Film Festival Special.
    Luxembourg festival premiere: 4 March 2022 Luxembourg City Film Festival.
    Kinostart Deutschland: 13 Oct 2022.
    Finnish premiere: 2 June 2023 – released by Future Film, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Samuli Kauppila / Michaela Palmberg.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 4, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 2 June 2023.

New edition to the 2004 book: Cioma Schönhaus: Der Passfälscher : die unglaubliche Geschichte eines jungen Grafikers, der im Untergrund gegen die Nazis kämpfte : mit Zeichnungen des Autors, bearbeitet, mit einem Nachwort versehen und herausgegeben von Marion Neiss, Frankfurt am Main : Fischer Taschenbuch, Februar 2022, ISBN 978-3-596-16446-2

NB. The Finnish title Väärentäjä was also used for another recent Holocaust movie, Die Fälscher (AT/DE 2007, D: Stefan Ruzowitzky), about Operation Bernhard, the most massive money counterfeiting operation in history.

AA: Among films about the Holocaust, The Forger is exceptional. It is based on a true story, published by the protagonist Cioma Schönhaus himself (1922–2015) in 2004. To the festival premiere in 2022 it was republished in a new edition.

It is a story of chutzpah (audacity): in wartime Berlin, during the Holocaust, Cioma survives in his parents' apartment, works in the arms industry, and acts normally, ignoring the yellow star, riding the bus and eating in the best restaurant.

Cioma has studied arts and crafts, he is a skilled graphic artist, and so he starts to get assignments to forge documents, including passports, thus saving the lives of 300 persecuted Jews, even finally himself.

But the theme of forgery expands to a much wider field of behaviour. Cioma and his friends themselves speak of mimicry – the capability of a creature of nature of assuming the appearance of its predator. Cioma's best friend Det Kassriel is a tailor, and they create Kriegsmarine uniforms for themselves. The success is complete as long as they keep their sang-froid.

Even without uniforms Cioma learns to master the situation. The most astounding scene is at the Fundbüro when people lined up to pawn their belongings land into a razzia of the police wanting to check their Personalausweise. Cioma is carrying no document, and so he assumes the attitude of a higher police officer and asks the policemen to show their papers, instead. An ingenious variation of the story of the Hauptmann von Köpenick, famous from the play by Carl Zuckmayer and others.

The theme of mimicry and playing the part of the enemy reminds me also of Charles Chaplin in The Great Dictator and Ernst Lubitsch in To Be Or Not To Be.

It is a miraculous survival story but not a story of heroes and villains. It is also a merciless story about abuse, egoism, opportunism and cynicism. I am also thinking about Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair and Stalag 17. Maggie Peren, the writer-director, moves on the same levels of complexity and audacity, but reaches a higher sense of maturity.

The situation is rigged to turn people into each other's enemies, but Maggie Peren and her actors see more in them. Human relationships are mercenary but also something beyond. Tenderness is genuine. Tradeoffs can lead to something else. There is a shortage of young male attention. Maggie Peren knows how to portray female desire subtly. Attractions can be surprising.

I was not looking forward to this film, fearing it to be yet another entry in the Shoah business. There have been many films on the topic in recent years that seem partly exploitative. With The Forger, I was happily surprised. It is among the best.


CINEMA AND THE HOLOCAUST. Claude Lanzmann's Shoah is for me the supreme achievement in the "mission impossible" of expressing the inexpressible. Nothing is shown, yet everything becomes vivid and unforgettable.
    The original footage by George Stevens and Samuel Fuller, the material in Todesmühlen and Memory of the Camps, and in Alain Resnais's Nuit et brouillard, are of primary value.
    The NBC series Holocaust (Gerald Green / Marvin J. Chomsky, 1978) and Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List belong to the films that have most changed awareness of history.
    Mark Donskoi's The Unvanquished, Wanda Jakubowska's The Last Stage, Andrzej Munk's Pasazerka, Vittorio De Sica's I giardino dei Finzi Contini, Louis Malle's Au revoir les enfants, István Szabó's Bizalom and Sunshine, Taru Mäkelä's David, Roman Polanski's The Pianist and Lajos Koltai's Fateless reach high levels.
    Some of the best films about the Holocaust are of recent vintage: Sergei Loznitsa's Babi Yar Context and Ken Burns's devastating U.S. and the Holocaust, both from last year (2022).
    For me, Maggie Peren's Der Passfälscher belongs to this league of the finest.

P.S. Viewers may find Cioma's chutzpah unbelievable, but I find the account of the young man's sang-froid and derring-do credible.

I recently read the memoirs of Boris Grünstein (1917–1992): Jude i Finland : galghumoristiska berättelser [A Jew in Finland : Gallows Humoristic Tales] (Söderström 1988).

In the 1930s, Finland's extreme right wing was vocally antisemitic. Even highly cultured, traditionally Germanophilic circles were often prone to Hitler admiration.

During Operation Barbarossa, Grünstein served in the Finnish Defence Forces, which was allied with the Wehrmacht. While stationed in the port town Hanko, Grünstein got to experience the threatening presence of Finnish SS men returning from the Ukraine bloodlands.

The young Grünstein was fearless. Only in his mature years he let the dread sink in.

I believe that Cioma Schönhaus and Boris Grünstein were soulmates, also in their sense of humour and appetite for love.

Boris Grünstein (1917–1992): Jude i Finland : galghumoristiska berättelser [A Jew in Finland : Gallows Humoristic Tales] (Söderström 1988). A tale of chutzpah in Finland during Drittes Reich.


Saturday, May 27, 2023

Les trois mousquetaires : D'Artagnan (2023) / The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan

Martin Bourboulon: Les trois mousquetaires : D'Artagnan / The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan.(FR/DE/ES/BE 2023). Above: Eva Green : Milady de Winter.
Center: Pio Marmaï : Porthos – Vincent Cassel : Athos – Romain Duris : Aramis.
Below: François Civil : D'Artagnan. Please do click on the image to enlarge it.

Kolme muskettisoturia: D'Artagnan / De tre musketörerna – D'Artagnan / The Three Musketeers: D'Artagnan
    FR/DE/ES/BE 2023. PC: Chapter 2 (Mediawan) et Pathé Films. Co-PC: M6 Films, Constantin Film, ZDF, DeAPlaneta, Umedia. P: Dimitri Rassam
    D: Martin Bourboulon. SC: Alexandre de La Patellière, Matthieu Delaporte – d'après le roman Les trois mousquetaires (1844) d'Alexandre Dumas. Décors: Stéphane Taillasson. Cost: Thierry Delettre. M: Guillaume Roussel. Montage: Célia Lafite-Dupoint.
François Civil : D'Artagnan
Vincent Cassel : Athos
Romain Duris : Aramis
Pio Marmaï : Porthos
Eva Green : Milady de Winter
Lyna Khoudri : Constance Bonacieux
Patrick Mille : le comte de Chalais
Julien Frison : Gaston d'Orléans
Dominique Valadié : Marie de Médicis
Thibault Vinçon : Horace Saint Blancard
Gabriel Almaer : Benjamin de la Fère, frère d'Athos
Raynaldo Houy Delattre : le comte de Rochefort
Laurent Claret : De Monfort
Dominique Daguier : juge Tréville [pas clair]
Nicolas Vaude : juge Athos [pas clair]
Charlotte Ranson : Isabelle de Valcour
Stéphane Margot : un protestant, allié d'Athos
Louis Garrel : Louis XIII
Vicky Krieps : Anne d'Autriche / Queen Anne of Austria, Queen of France
Éric Ruf : le cardinal de Richelieu
Marc Barbé : le capitaine de Tréville
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (en) : le duc de Buckingham, George Villiers
    Loc: Île-de-France, Bretagne, les Hauts-de-France, Normandie, les Invalides, la cour du Louvre, la cathédrale de Meaux, le Château de Chantilly, Fontainebleau, Compiègne.
    Languages: French – with some English.
    Genre: Cape et épée.
    121 min
    Date de sortie France, Belgique, Suisse romande: 5 April 2023
    Finnish premiere 26 May 2023 – released by Nordisk Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Ilse Rönnberg / Charlotte Elo.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 27 May 2023.

" Du Louvre au Palais de Buckingham, des bas-fonds de Paris au siège de La Rochelle… Dans un Royaume divisé par les guerres de religion et menacé d’invasion par l’Angleterre, une poignée d’hommes et de femmes vont croiser leurs épées et lier leur destin à celui de la France. " (synopsis Unifrance)

AA: The Three Musketeers, a swashbuckling adventure entertainment, is grounded in broad outlines in the history of Baroque France.

The background is the great religious wars. The Thirty Years' War is raging in Europe in the year 1627 when the movie starts. France, led by the Bourbons, supports the war against the Holy Catholic Empire of the Habsburgs. Reformation has started a hundred years earlier, and a nadir of religious persecution, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, is remembered with shudder.

The persecution was stopped in the Edict of Nantes by Henry IV, France's first Bourbon king, the father of Louis XIII, himself the father of the future Sun King, Louis XIV. To fortify the nation against religious and regional divisiveness, all power is being centralized, in a development leading towards absolutism.

After the assassination of Henry IV by a Catholic fanatic, the queen, Marie de' Medici, becomes the regent, but her son Louis XIII takes over and reigns while keeping track on his mastermind, the prime minister genius, Cardinal Richelieu – and his own Queen Anne, who carries on with the enemy via her liaison with the Duke of Buckingham. When French Protestants pursue a separate republic inside the kingdom of France, England supports them. Richelieu disarms them and gets equipped to a decisive battle in La Rochelle.

Into this highly explosive hub of international political, religious and military intrigue, spiced with sexual tension, arrives the clumsy but fearless young hunk from the provinces, D'Artagnan, who wants to join the King's Musketeers. He commits every imaginable blunder but soon earns the grudging approval of the renowned Three Musketeers, being finally recognized as the Fourth Musketeer.

This is the tale we know from the novels of Alexandre Dumas and countless adaptations and references in other media, not least in the movies. My favourite D'Artagnan interpreter in the movies is Douglas Fairbanks, particularly in The Iron Mask (1929), one of the most extraordinary action adventure films ever made. I agree with those who say that Douglas Fairbanks was born to play D'Artagnan.

I have only good things to say about Richard Lester's Musketeers series. My French friends seem to prefer George Sidney's film adaptation starring Gene Kelly. It is fascinating that while Frenchmen have produced several memorable Monte Cristo film adaptations, the best Musketeer films seem to have been made by foreigners. Perhaps the subject is too familiar for Frenchmen?

Most Musketeer films have emphasized comedy, with Fairbanks's The Iron Mask among the exceptions. Martin Bourboulon's approach is also more serious and tragic, faithful to Dumas. A sense of humour is present, reverberating here on a darker foundation.

The screenwriters Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu Delaporte have dramatized the adventure very well. Martin Bourboulon introduces the characters memorably and intertwines the private affairs with the epic turning-points deftly. Grandiose setpieces include the masked ball at the Buckingham Palace and the cancelled wedding of Gaston de France, the King's brother. Actual locations were used whenever possible, and the costumes seem authentic.

The cast is great. François Civil, Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris and Pio Marmaï project a convincing sense of camaraderie. In awareness of a widening perception of identity politics, Porthos is conveyed as bisexual. Eva Green as Milady de Winter, Vicky Krieps as Anne d'Autriche, Lyna Khoudri as Constance Bonacieux and Dominique Valadié as Marie de Médicis bring a formidable female presence to the male-dominated world. Milady is of course one of the great female villains in fiction. In this account we get an insight in the abuse she has been forced to endure in her formative years. Louis Garrel as Louis XIII, Eric Ruf as cardinal de Richelieu and Marc Barbé as captain de Tréville make their characters forces to reckon with.

While I admire the epic sweep of the movie, I have misgivings about the action scenes. Handheld camerawork and ultra rapid edits convey the general feeling of frenetic combat, but it is hard to make sense of who does what to whom.

Cinema is an art of light, and relentless darkness in prolonged passages may start to feel depressing. In real life, eyes are highly adaptable to darkness, but in movie darkness there is no room for eyes to adapt.

I am always deeply moved by a Three Musketeers presentation, since Les trois mousquetaires and Le Comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas were the first novels I read as a child, and Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan were among the first words I learned to write.

I also remember from those years a tv show in which "Vive l'amour (Vive la compagnie)" (1818 trad. college song) was sung in French by Finnish actors (Ismo Kallio among them I believe) dressed as the three musketeers. There can be no greater motto than "All for one! One for all!"

" Tous pour un ! Un pour tous ! "

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Don Giovanni (opera "live in HD" from The Met, 20 May 2023)

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023. In the beginning there is Vatermord. Donna Anna and Don Ottavio witness in shock the death throes of the Commandatore, Anna's father. The shock waves of the primal act of violence reverberate through the tragedy until the last supper, where the dead father, reincarnated as the Stone Guest, consigns Don Giovanni, his murderer, to Hell. Photos: The Metropolitan Opera. Please do click on them to enlarge them.

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023. Don Giovanni and the three masked avengers at the end of Act I.

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023.

W. A. Mozart / Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2023. Peter Mattei as Don Giovanni.

Il dissoluto punito ossia Il Don Giovanni / Der bestrafte Wüstling oder Don Giovanni. KV 527.
    AT 1798. Dramma giocoso. Composer: W. A. Mozart. Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte – based on: Giovanni Bertati: Don Giovanni Tenorio. Original in Italian. Premiere: 29 Oct 1787, Prague: Gräflich Nostitsches Nationaltheater (today: Ständetheater). Duration: 165 min
    The action takes place in Sevilla in the 17th or 18th century.
Donna Anna, die Tochter des Commandatore und Braut von Don Ottavio (soprano) / Federica Lombardi
Donna Elvira, vornehme Dame aus Burgos, Don Giovannis verlassene Geliebte (soprano) / Ana María Martínez
Zerlina, die Braut von Masetto, eine Bäuerin (soprano or mezzosoprano) / Ying Fang
Don Ottavio, der Verlobte von Donna Anna (tenor) / Ben Bliss
Don Giovanni, ein ausschweifender junger Edelmann (barytone) / Peter Mattei
Leporello, Don Giovannis Diener (bass) / Adam Plachetka
Masetto, ein Bauer, Bräutigam der Zerlina (bass) / Alfred Walker
Il Commendatore (Der Komtur) / Der steinerne Gast (bass) / Alexander Tsymbalyuk
contadini, contadine, servitori, suonatori (chorus)
    A co-production of the Metropolitan Opera and Opéra National de Paris.
    Conductor: Nathalie Stutzmann
    Producer: Ivo van Hove
    Production and lighting design: Jan Versweyveld
    Costume design: Christopher Ash
    Choreography: Sara Erde
    Live in HD director: Gary Halvorson
    Live in HD presenter: Erin Morley
    Duration announced: 3h 15 min - 3h 35 min (allowing flexibility of opening commentary and intermission). The presentation started at 18.00 and ended at 21.30 (3h 30 min with an intermission, opening speeches and closing credits.
    English subtitles.
    Recording from The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 20 May 2023.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 23 May 2023.

AA: I am not an opera-goer, but in a parallel life I would love nothing more. I see today for the first time a full-length performance of Don Giovanni which is familiar to me only as a music listener and from Joseph Losey's film adaptation.

Unlike Ingmar Bergman in The Magic Flute, Losey decided to open up the opera on real locations, which does not work for me. The Mozart / Da Ponte piece was conceived as music theatre and in my opinion is best kept that way, even in film adaptation keeping a "filmed theatre" approach like Bergman did with The Magic Flute.

The co-production of the Opéra National de Paris and The Metropolitan Opera of New York is a magnificent achievement, perfection in all departments, conveyed beautifully in the "live in HD" presentation from three days ago.

The Paris leg of the show opened in 2019, and the New York production was scheduled to open right after, but because of the 2019 global Covid pandemic, the opening at the Met was postponed until now. The production is the same, but the casting and the musicians are different.

Don Giovanni belongs to the Mozart / Da Ponte trilogy of operas "before the Revolution": Le nozze di Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1789/1790), the last of which was actually premiering during the Revolution.

Don Giovanni / Don Juan is a character well-known in European fiction at least since Mannerism, the earliest notable dramatization being Tirso de Molina's play (1630), followed by Molière, Goldoni, Zorrilla, Byron, Hoffmann, Pushkin and many others. In many versions, in the beginning, Don Juan kills Doña Ana's father, whose grave marker, "the stone guest", he meets at his last supper before being sent to Hell.

The protagonist's name has become a watchword, Don Juanism meaning the male desire for a maximal number of women, immortalized in Leporello's "catalogue aria".

The 2019 / 2023 approach to the opera is Me Too. This is Don Giovanni as Donald Trump. Don Giovanni as a hitman. Don Giovanni as James Bond. Don Giovanni from Pulp Fiction. He defies Death. He can commit murder or a brutal assault in cold blood. 

Don Giovanni is a predator, so virile, fearless and determined that everyone else seems paralyzed. In a scene in the end of Act 1 Don Giovanni is directly menaced by all, yet walks away scot free. Don Ottavio fails to stand up to him and therefore loses the love of Donna Anna. Masetto is stronger, yet ends up brutally beaten, which undermines Zerlina's love.

The sexual mystery is not simplified or trivialized. The women are horrified yet also aroused and attracted. The encounter with Don Giovanni is something even more disturbing that being abused, harassed or worse. Don Giovanni's animal alpha male charisma shakes women down to the roots.

Reportedly Giacomo Casanova visited the premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague, but in case he did, he did not discover a mirror image of himself on the stage. Casanova claimed interest only in women he loved. Don Juan is insatiably interested in all women, young and old, blondes and brunettes, all sizes, nations and walks of life. Love is not an issue.

Don Juan is indifferent to love, but he cannot live without women, they are like air and water to him, essential Lebensmittel for conspicuous consumption. Don Juan's way with women is nearer to hate than love. Classically, Don Juan has been seen as a narcissist, but his approach is nearer to self-hate than self-love.

In the age of Tinder, women are as likely to have multiple partners as men, and that was probably so also in Mozart's time ("così fan tutte").

Don Giovanni is being played in modern dress. Modern dress for classic plays has been the norm all my lifetime, a tired convention already when I started to see classics as a child. In the middle of the first modern-dress performance I saw (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Finnish National Theatre, 1967) I registered Tauno Palo as Falstaff (another bigger-than-life Mannerist figure like Don Giovanni) winking and smiling in resignation: "please bear with us, I don't like this any more than you do". It is a bit of a case of underestimating the audience that we are not trusted to get the topical relevance of the play without pretending that it is happening today. And yet, importantly, but this is not an issue for a Don Giovanni performance: women of today are not like the women of Rococo Austria or Renaissance Spain.

But there are men today like Don Giovanni played by Peter Mattei. There is a complexity and a determination in him that is convincing. He keeps his poker face in the most amazing situations of danger and bluff. He has seen it all and seems mostly be enjoying his skill at the routine of surviving any threat. He can still play the part of the serenading lover very well, perhaps more perfectly than the other men who are genuinely in love. For the women it is heartbreak non stop.

Like other archetypal Mannerist figures (Don Quijote / Sancho Panza, Doktor Faustus / Mephistopheles), Don Juan has a sidekick, here called Leporello. He is a buffoonish Doppelgänger, and he can trade places with his master to save him from trouble and mislead vengeful women. I like Adam Plachetka's performance. He is a survivor and a scoundrel, ein Mitläufer in his master's demonic ploys. He sings the devastating catalogue aria with abandon, particularly the "è la grande maestosa" line where he transforms into a towering figure.

I am not a music connoisseur. Natalie Stutzmann and the orchestra play the incredibly wonderful and complex music perfectly, perhaps making it slightly more sober, avoiding brio (I imagine). Similarly, Peter Mattei's masterful interpretation of the songs is more about control than abandon.

I notice that on the Met's cast list, Federica Lombardi, Ana María Martínez and Ying Fang, the three female leads, are first billed. Federica Lombardi as Donna Anna is the real center of the production, magnificent in her beautiful and sensual interpretation. Ana María Martínez transcends the traditional buffoonish view of Donna Elvira. She is comical but also dignified although she is being repeatedly cheated in the meanest possible way. Love is blind. Ying Fang brings a spirit of fighting courage to her Zerlina.

Don Giovanni is full of "greatest hits of the opera". This time I am struck by Don Giovanni's surprisingly tender and genuine serenade performance in "Deh, vieni alla finestra". Similarly with the brilliant but cynical "Là ci darem la mano". Among the most memorable performances are Ben Bliss as Don Ottavio singing "Dalla sua pace" and "Il mio tesoro" apparently out-Mozarting Mozart in incredibly challenging passages.

All great, subtly toned down, all holds barred. The digital age cinema theatre is black. The stage image aspires to the condition of the monochrome, as does the costume design. Black, bleak and dark prevail. Only the music conveys the light of love and transcendence in the black night of the soul.

Don Giovanni is a tale of passivity, powerlessness, appeasement and defaitism against violence. This is striking from the viewpoint of the philosophy of history, because the opera was premiered on the eve of the revolution – the uprising against the very type of ruthless aristocracy personified by Don Giovanni. But we see the mounting furor even here.

Mozart believes in divine intervention. Don Giovanni being sent to Hell in the end is not a deus ex machina shortcut. Mozart was a true and profound believer. He died three years later, and during the last year of his life he completed Die Zauberflöte, his greatest celebration of love, and his sacred masterpieces, Requiem and Ave verum corpus.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Il materiale emotivo / Un dragon en forme de nuage / A Bookshop in Paris

Sergio Castellitto: Il materiale emotivo / Un dragon en forme de nuage / A Bookshop in Paris (IT/FR 2021) starring Sergio Castellitto (Vincenzo) and Bérénice Bejo (Yolande). Sur le Pont Mirabeau. Facing Pont de Grenelle-Cadets de Saumur (with Statue de Liberté Paris, invisible behind Castellitto in this photo but visible in the film itself).

Pieni kirjakauppa Pariisissa / En liten bokhandel i Paris.
    IT/FR © 2021 Rodeo Drive / Mon Voisin Productions / Tikkun Production. P: Marco Poccioni, Marco Valsania.
    D: Sergio Castellitto. SC: Ettore Scola, Furio Scarpelli, Silvia Scola – Margaret Mazzantini, Sergio Castellitto – from the story "Un drago a forma di nuvola" by Ettore Scola. Cin: Italo Petriccione – colour – 2.39:1. PD: Massimiliano Sturiale. AD: Emanuele Pellegrino. Set dec: Ilaria Fallacara, Matteo Mattei. Cost: Andrea Cavalletto. VFX: Virginia Cefaly. M: Arturo Annecchino. S: Alessandro Rolla. ED: Chiara Vullo. Casting: Angélique Luisi.
    C: Sergio Castellitto (Vincenzo), Bérénice Bejo (Yolande), Matilda De Angelis (Albertine), Clementino (Clemente), Sandra Milo (Madame Milo), Alex Lutz (Gérard), Marie-Philomène Nga (Colombe), Nassim Lyes (Alain), Maxence Dinant (Padre Mathieu), Bruno Goeury (cleptomane), Alessio Montagnani (clochard Hector), Julie Ciccarelli (Fioraia). Voice talent: Domitilla D'Amico (Yolande's voice).
    Languages: French and Italian.
    Studio: Cinecittà Studios, Rome.
    Loc: Paris, France.
    IMDb, Wikipedia: 89 min, Finland: 97 min
    Festival premiere: 5 March 2021 Berlin International Film Festival.
    Italian premiere: 7 Oct 2021.
    French release (VOD internet): 28 Nov 2021.
    Finnish premiere: 19 May 2023 – released by Future Film – with Finnish subtitles by Lauri Holma & Tarja Sahlsten / Swedish subtitles by [the credit flashed by too fast].
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 22 May 2023.

AA: Based on an unproduced screenplay by Ettore Scola (1931–2016) and his team, A Bookshop in Paris was first adapted as a graphic novel by Ivo Milazzo, imagining Gérard Depardieu and Massimo Troisi in leading roles.

Sergio Castellitto catches engagingly the emotional arc of the story about the ageing bookstore owner Vincenzo (Castellitto) and his paralyzed daughter Albertine (Matilda De Angelis). Vincenzo seems to have been caught in a timeless existence: he does not even have a mobile phone. He is shaken up from his routine by a wild spirit, the actress Yolande (Bérénice Bejo).

The film is openly theatrical and studio-bound, mostly shot on Cinecittà sets. In the beginning and the end there are even opening and closing curtains.

A Bookshop in Paris is a celebration of books and reading. Vincenzo is committed to literature. Yolande is a living negation of his calling: "Who needs books? We live in the digital age." "You are dead men walking". But Vincenzo is happy to fight for his cause: "Literature is eternal. Actuality is lethal".

When Yolande complains that she has no time for big books, Vincenzo gives her Marguerite Yourcenar's Les Trente-Trois Noms de Dieu. Other books discussed include Boris Vian's L'Écume des jours, Le Journal d'Anne Frank, Madame Bovary and Schopenhauer's Hedgehog's Dilemma. Oscar Wilde is quoted ("I live in terror of not being misunderstood").

But the true meta-dimension is provided by Dostoevsky. A Gentle Creature is another "small book" recommended by Vincenzo to Yolande who has no patience for big ones. It was filmed by Bresson as Une femme douce. A poster of Visconti's Le notti bianche, an adaptation of another Dostoevsky tale, White Nights, can be seen on Vincenzo's wall. Dostoevsky sets his story in the midnight sun period by the river Neva in St. Petersburg. In Visconti's imagination we are on a wintertime bridge in the Venezia Nuova district of Livorno. Castellitto's film reminds us of Bresson's version, Quatre nuits d'un rêveur, shot on Pont-Neuf (and paid homage to in Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf).

Castellitto stages a central scene on another bridge over the Seine, Pont Mirabeau (see poster above), famous from a poem by Apollinaire. Like Dostoevsky's dreamer, Vincenzo is waken up by a vibrant woman, only to be discarded by her in the end. But both he and his daughter have been jolted back to life.

Like Visconti and Bresson, Castellino approaches his story as a fairy-tale. We are in a tourist Paris of retouched / photoshopped picture postcards. The bookshop is on the pictoresque side of Montmartre like Amélie's home. Eiffel Tower is visible on the other side, on the left bank. Everything is in pastiche. There is an obvious, even flaunted, digital look.

Despite the artifice, the "emotional material" promised in the film's title is genuine. But again, perhaps due to pandemic circumstances, there is a lack of vigour and power in the movie.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Ellos eatnu / Let the River Flow

Ole Giæver: Ellos eatnu / Let the River Flow (NO/SE/FI 2023) starring Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen as Ester.

Ellos eatnu – La elva leve [Norwegian title] / Anna joen virrata / Låt älven leva.
    NO/SE/FI © 2023 Mer Film / Zentropa Sweden / Bufo / Knudsen Pictures / Helmet. PC: Mer Film. P: Maria Ekerhovd. Co-PC: Bufo, Zentropa Sweden, Knudsen Pictures, Helmet. Co-P: Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff.
    D+SC: Ole Giæver. DP: Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen – 2K. PD: Ragnhild Juliane Sletta, Cecilie de Lange. Cost: Nell Knudsen. Makeup: Salla Yli-Luopa. ED: Wibecke Rønseth. S: Bent Holm – 5.1. M: Ola Fløttum, Pessi Levanto.
Ester – Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen
Mihkkal – Gard Emil  
Risten – Sofia Jannok
Piera – Beaska Niillas
Marit – Marie Kvernmo
Stein – Finn Arve Sørbøe
Thomas – William Sigvaldsen
Áhkku – Mary Sarre
Gøran – Ivar Beddari
Principal – Maria Bock
Ailu – Robert Amadeus Gaup Mienna
Ailu's father – Mikkel Gaup
    Languages: Northern Sámi, Norwegian.
    Duration according to the pressbook: 123 min, Filmikamari 124 min, Norwegian Wikipedia and IMDb 118 min
    Festival premiere: Tromssa Film Festival 2023.
    Finnish premiere: 5 May 2023 – distributor: B-Plan Distribution – 118 min – subtitles in Finnish and Northern Sámi by Thomas Brevik Kjærstad.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 21 May 2023.

IMDb: "Ester hides her identity to avoid being exposed to racism. When Ester suddenly finds herself in the middle of demonstrations against a big dam development in Alta, a personal journey out of the shame she has carried so long begins."

Wikipedia: "The Alta conflict or Alta controversy refers to a series of massive protests in Norway in the late 1970s and early 1980s concerning the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in the Alta River in Finnmark, Northern Norway." [In Finland, Finnmark, to the North of North Finland, is known as Ruija].

AA: A powerful dramatic subject: the Northern Sámi people's fight for their survival and existence in the 1970s. A subject relevant to themes of the Sámi, indigenous rights and new colonial history. More generally it is a major history lesson of civil disobedience and passive resistance.

The protagonist, the timid teacher Ester, is played by Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, a Sámi activist herself, in her debut film role. It is a coming of age saga of Ester, who has learned to hide her identity, turning into a fighter for the rights of her people. The tale is told with honesty and a sense for complexity.

There are memorable scenes in the film. Ester, the young teacher, is bullied, belittled and insulted by her fellow teachers. When she finally speaks up, she says it out loud in her native Northern Sámi. Nobody understands a word of what she is saying, but everybody gets the message. The bullying ends here.

The cinematography by Marius Matzow Gulbrandsen is breathtaking. The wild North is captured in endless grandiose views. The Sámi people have an experience of millennia in surviving in these harsh but compelling surroundings.

Today is Remembrance Day / Kaatuneitten muistopäivä / Commemoration Day of Fallen Soldiers in Finland. We raised the flag in the morning, but it has failed to fly because of a lack of wind.

A similar trouble haunts Let the River Flow. All ingredients are in place: a great subject and a magnificent production on location. But there is no wind. Perhaps yet another case of what I have called "the pandemic phlegmatic syndrome".


Thursday, May 11, 2023

Revoir Paris / Paris Memories

Alice Winocour: Revoir Paris / Paris Memories (FR 2022) avec Virginie Efira (Mia).

Muistan sinut, Pariisi / Minnas Paris.
    FR © 2022. PC: Dharamsala, Darius Films. Co-PC: Pathé Films. Vente internationale + distribution France: Pathé Films, Pathé International. P: Isabelle Madelaine, Emilie Tisné. Co-P: Ardavan Safaee.
    D+SC: Alice Winocour. DP: Stéphane Fontaine – 1,85 – colour. PD: Florian Sanson. AD: Margaux Remaury. Cost: Pascaline Chavanne; Caroline Spieth. Original M: Anna von Hausswolff. S: Jean-Pierre Duret, Pascal Villard, Laure-Anne Darras, Marc Doisne – 5.1. ED: Julien Lacheray. Casting: Anaïs Duran.
    C: Virginie Efira (Mia), Benoît Magimel (Thomas), Grégoire Colin (Vincent), Maya Sansa (Sara), Amadou Mbow (Assane), Nastya Golubeva Carax (Félicia), Anne-Lise Heimburger (Camille), Sokem "Kemso" Ringuet (Hakim), Sofia Lesaffre (Nour / Madeleine), Clarisse Makundul (Essé), Zakariya Gouram (médecin cicatrice), Jonathan Turnbull (restaurateur brasserie), Dolores Chaplin (Estelle, la femme de Thomas).
    M soundtrack selections: – Arvo Pärt: Fratres (1977). – Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov: La Fille de neige / The Snow Maiden / Снегурочка / Snegurochka (1880).
    Loc: Paris – Maison de Radio France (Paris 16) – Brasserie Vaudeville [L'Étoile d'Or] (Paris 2) – Arc de triomphe de l'Étoile / Avenue des Champs-Élysées (Paris 8, aerial shot) – Place de la Bourse (Paris 2) – Place de la République (Paris 3/10/11) – Opéra Bastille (Paris 12) – Musée de l'Orangerie: salles Les Nymphéas (Paris 1) – les bords de la Seine (the homeless, the illegal immigrants) – autour la Tour Eiffel, in the maze of the Champs de Mars (Paris 7). [My attempt to register them, to be verified].
    105 min
    Award: César de la meilleure actrice: Virginie Efira.
    Festival premiere: 21 May 2022 (Festival de Cannes: Quinzaine des réalisateurs)
    French premiere: 7 Sep 2022.
    Finnish premiere: 5 May 2023, released by Atlantic Film, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Joel Kinnunen / Michaela Palmberg.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 11 May 2023.

AA: Alice Winocour's film has been inspired by the November 2015 Paris attacks by the Islamic State. There were six targets. The direct reference here is the attack on the Bataclan Theatre. The movie is multi-layered, and it discusses several themes, but terrorism is not among them.

Revoir Paris is a profound study about memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mia (Virginie Efira) is a survivor of the attack on the restaurant L'Étoile d'Or. She suffers from amnesia, blackout, and loss of focus and concentration. She returns from a three month convalescence as a stranger in her own life.

The approach can be compared with Alain Resnais in Nuit et brouillard, Hiroshima mon amour and Muriel: coming to terms with a traumatic social experience that transcends the limits of understanding. The level of ambition is the same, but Winocour is not imitating anyone. She has conducted a heartfelt research gaining both human and scientific results. A key concept is the "trauma diamond": in the hard process of recovery a new insight may crystallize.

After an initial retirement, Mia returns to Paris and skeptically and reluctantly starts to approach a trauma therapy network. The debriefing findings in the post-crisis meetings seem initially banal and useless, even destructive, but little by little trivial details turn into building blocks in a meaningful jigsaw puzzle. "You need two to remember". Key sentences also include: "Someone was with me" and "I have never felt such closeness" (there was a love act between two people who were expecting to die).

I feel uneasy to discover that the main channel of communication among the survivors is Facebook, which for me is increasingly an (the) embodiment of hate speech. Today I have been reading Vanessa Barbara's essay "Brazil at the Crossroads" in The New York Review of Books. She refers to Max Fisher's book The Chaos Machine (2022) about the backlash of misogyny, antisemitism, authoritarianism and fake news, the main forum of which is social media such as Facebook. In Brazil, Facebook is widely seen as a main reason for the destruction of civil society.

Mia's relationship to her partner Vincent (Grégoire Colin) disintegrates because Vincent cannot connect with the trauma which has become the central experience in Mia's existence. Instead, Mia comes closer to Thomas (Benoît Magimel), a convalescing invalid with severe leg damage, in addition to which he now suffers from claustrophobia.

Thomas is a fighter, refusing to act victimized during the painful treatment in which the bones of his legs are reconstructed bit by bit. The closeness of Mia and Thomas leads to a night of love, made special by the attention needed for the scars of both and the metal prostheses of Thomas. The tender sequence is far from Cronenberg land.

The saga of recovery is psychologically genuine, and more than that, it has philosophical depth: this is a film about memory and identity. Revoir Paris is a film about dialogue, about a meeting of the minds. We are who we are in dialogue with the other. Mia wins back her identity via memory flashes. Little memories build to a bigger picture.

The journey on the memory lane includes a visit to the Orangerie to the rooms displaying Monet's Water Lilies. Mia takes an orphan girl there because that painting was the last thing her parents saw before they died. In her press notes, Winocour says:

" What I didn’t know was that Monet had given this picture to France after the horrors of the First World War so people could meditate on a scene empty of human presence. He said that visitors should stand in silence before the painting, the better to contemplate the beauty of the world. Since it was sheer intuition that had led me to chose the museum, I was very touched to learn that. "

Besides being a psychological, medical and philosophical movie, Revoir Paris is also a sociological survey. Mia's memory flashes include a tattooed arm and holding hands. She draws the conclusion that the person must have been kitchen staff and launches a quest to find him.

Winocour's approach evokes classics of neorealism (chasing a single person can lead to revelations about society). Mia finds out that many have vanished from the scene of the massacre. There were a lot of paperless, illegal immigrants among the restaurant staff.

We are led to the revelation that there is an undocumented shadow existence, a secret society among us. More than that, we hear as an aside that the presence of illegal restaurant staff from Senegal, Mali and Sri Lanka is so overwhelming that if they would go on strike, Paris would not eat.

In my Sight & Sound 2022 Top Ten list I included Charles Chaplin's City Lights and commented that the movie is getting increasingly topical due to the global refugee crisis. I am moved by Winocour's direct reference to City Lights in the final sequence. As well as the presence of Charlie's granddaughter Dolores among the cast.

After many false starts and dead ends, the tireless Mia finds the man who goes under different names and changes location constantly. This is not a love story, but it is about something equally grand: affirming and celebrating our mutual humanity. Finding ourselves we find the other.

I keep registering a peculiar pandemic / post-pandemic phlegmatic syndrome in recent movies. Revoir Paris has many strengths. It is a character-driven movie in which Virginie Efira gives an outstanding performance in an exceptionally difficult role. It is thematically strong and complex but never confused.

I was thinking about The Beatles, why they disintegrated. They needed to play together in live performances to keep the band spirit. There was nothing wrong, but they missed the greatest joy of the play, and so they quit as a band and continued on their different paths.

In the fragmented circumstances of remote work crews may have lost something of the irresistible, infectious joy and team spirit of film-making. I may be wrong about Revoir Paris. I think that powerfully story-driven films may be easier to accomplish in exceptional circumstances than character-driven ones, visionary films, or any kinds of films that are based on the power of presence, the sense of being or a revelation or epiphany (the Chekhov school of fiction).

Revoir Paris is an exceptional and highly distinguished film, and it could be a great film if there were a sense of irresistible energy and drive.