Tag Archives: B+

AMADEUS DIRECTOR’S CUT

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B+

Though Milos Forman’s filmization of Peter Schaffer’s play “Amadeus” won eight Oscars, including those for best picture, director and actor, in 1984, it’s always been more admired than loved. The narrative–about the way in which the competent but uninspired court composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), in an act of vengeance against the God he believes has cheated him, destroyed (or insanely believed that he had destroyed) the young Mozart (Tom Hulce), whom he saw as a divine instrument–certainly raises serious questions: it deals, among other things, with the clash between mediocrity and genius, and with the mysterious character of God’s providence in human affairs. Its treatment of those issues, however, isn’t terribly deep, and from the intellectual perspective the film is rather muddled; there’s a sense of false profundity constantly at work While the production afforded the material is opulent, moreover, the pace is so stately and genteel that it could be criticized in the same terms that its version of Mozart applies to the static operas that preceded his own. “Amadeus” is also an extremely talky piece: following the structure of the play on which it’s based, it devotes a good deal of the running-time to the elderly Salieri recounting his relationship with Mozart to the audience (whose surrogate is now a priest who wants to serve as the old man’s confessor). The characters, moreover, are sketched in broad, overemphatic strokes (less suited to the screen than the stage); it’s hard to see them as anything but elements of an argument rather than sympathetic individuals. (That may explain why neither Abraham nor Hulce had a sterling career afterward, despite their good work here.) The approach gives the picture a detached, dry tone that makes it eminently admirable, but not really moving. Ironically, “Amadeus” seems like the sort of well- crafted but oddly pedestrian film a Salieri might make, rather than the brilliant, inspired creation of a Mozart.

Still, “Amadeus” was a sort of intimate epic, and while it never matched the transcendent beauty of the music with which it was filled, it seemed to have a seriousness–despite its flashes of wicked humor (especially in Jeffrey Jones’ hilarious turn as the empty-headed Emperor Joseph II)–that merited recognition and respect. And in the current “director’s cut,” it emerges looking and sounding wonderful again, filling the wide screen with color and richness. It’s certainly worth seeking out and savoring once more for its many virtues, not the least of them the shards of Mozart’s music sprinkled liberally throughout it–and very nicely played. (And the scene in which Mozart blithely converts Salieri’s march of welcome into “Non piu andrai,” without realizing the offense he’s giving, remains a masterful joke.)

Yet this is a somewhat different film from that issued eighteen years ago. The old version ran about 160 minutes; the new one has grown to 188. The most prominent additions are a couple of scenes involving a tin-earned, dog-loving Viennese businessman named Schlumberg (Kenneth McMillan), whose daughter briefly becomes (at Salieri’s intervention) Mozart’s pupil. The earlier of them shows Mozart stalking out in disgust after the man refuses to keep his mongrels out of the practice-room, and the latter depicts the now-dissolute composer returning to beg a loan–unsuccessfully. (The first is preceded by another new sequence, a conversation between the two composers in which Mozart intrigues Salieri by letting slip that he’s working on a big project, which turns out to be “Le Nozze di Figaro.”) Other added minutes include a brief introduction to the visit that Constanze Mozart makes to Salieri to ask him to look over her husband’s scores, showing the court composer with one of his students, and a scene in which Mozart goes to Katerina Cavalieri’s dressing-room after the premiere of “Die Entführung aus dem Serail,” reinforcing Salieri’s conviction that the younger man has seduced his prize pupil. Forman has probably made lesser adjustments at other points as well, though they’re less immediately apparent.

What’s the effect of all this tinkering? In some respects the narrative runs more smoothly–the added conversation between Salieri and Mozart, for example, is helpful in explaining why the plot unfolds as it does afterward. Unhappily, its inclusion necessitated the addition of the two Schlumberg sequences, which–to be perfectly honest–should never have seen the light of day: both are heavy-handed and far too broad, with McMillan looking (and sounding) very much out of place. The dressing-room sequence is basically redundant, as is the brief conversation between Salieri and his pupil prior to Constanze’s arrival. More, in this case, doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Still, that’s no reason for you to skip the opportunity to see “Amadeus” on the big screen once again. It’s not a classic, but it is a solid, if somewhat stolid, picture of an extravagant, vaguely cerebral kind that’s not made very often nowadays. Though it’s unlikely to transport you to the degree that Mozart’s works did Salieri, it does at least hint at the miraculous quality of his music.

BEHIND THE SUN (ABRIL DESPEDACADO)

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B+

Walter Salles’ “Behind the Sun” is strangely beautiful and poetic for a film about clan feuds, retributive violence and fraternal sacrifice. Taking us into a rural world that seems both totally foreign and peculiarly immediate, the picture has moments that recall the Fellini’s “La strada” and a South American variant of “The Grapes of Wrath,” but overall it’s distinctive–at once sharp and hallucinatory and, though deliberate and self-consciously “artistic,” quite affecting.

The story, inspired by the novel “Broken April” by Albanian writer Ismail Kadare, has been transposed to the parched, windswept Brazilian badlands at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The central conflict is one over land between two families: the Breves, a hard-scrabbling couple who can barely feed their three sons on their production of sugar cane, and the Ferreiras, a far larger and wealthier clan. As the picture opens, the oldest Breves boy has been killed by the oldest Ferreiras son, and in accordance with the “rules” of feudal warfare in the harsh locale, the next Breves boy will kill his brother’s assassin after a suitable interval (determined by when the blood on the dead man’s shirt turns yellow in the sun). Under pressure from his unyielding father (Jose Dumont) and despite the fear of his mother (Rita Assemany), Tonio Breves (Rodrigo Santoro), a dreamily handsome youth who’s clearly desirous of ending the violence, fulfills his bloody obligation, gunning down his victim after a chase through a cane field. Tonio then begs the dead boy’s grandfather (Othon Bathos) to accept a permanent peace, but the old man refuses, insisting that the feud will continue. The doomed Tonio considers fleeing, but instead seeks a brief respite from the misery of his life by attending–along with his adoring kid brother Pacu (Ravi Ramos Lacerda)–a performance by a traveling carnival couple, earthy Salustiano (Luiz Carlos Vasconcelis) and his beautiful stepdaughter Clara (Flavia Marco Antonio), in a nearby town. As Pacu watches, Tonio and Clara are drawn together, but the threat from the next Ferreiras son is already at hand.

This story could been treated forcefully, as a sort of small-scaled version of William Wyler’s “The Big Country” (1958). But though he uses the isolated Brazilian locale as evocatively as the Hollywood director did his vast western plains and mountains, and though he can create a viscerally exciting sequence (most notably in Tonio’s ambush of the Ferreiras boy), Salles is hardly trying to fashion an action film akin to Wyler’s. His aim is to create a magical fable of death and redemption, in which mood and pictorial composition dominate over plot and logic. In collaboration with cinematographer Walter Carbalho, he brings a woozy, dreamlike quality to the narrative, suffusing the widescreen images with light and shadow and carefully chosen colors. He’s obviously also chosen his cast for their iconic appearance; although Dumont and Santoro, in particular, give excellent performances, it’s their look, rather than the emotions they convey, that will lodge in the memory, and the same is true to an even greater extent with the rest of the actors. As a result “Behind the Sun” is likely to strike some viewers as entirely too artful and controlled–as a film so rigidly strait-jacketed by its director’s vision that it loses all sense of spontaneity. To a certain extent that’s true; but it’s also the case that the picture builds an almost mesmerizing level of intensity so long as it concentrates on the family conflict. (The introduction of Salustiano and Clara, on the other hand, does have a certain precious quality to it.) And it’s the rich, evocative side of the film that eventually wins out. “Behind the Sun” may be too studied in its effects to be entirely successful, but it offers so many entrancing moments along the way that it’s easy to forgive its affectations.