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Exquisitely portraying the last days of 19th century Europe's most infamous 'celebrity romance,' the Franco-Polish director Andrzej Zulawski has made a film that defines an era. Just as the Middle Ages (for us cinephiles) will always be Bergman's The Seventh Seal, or the Belle Epoque will always be Visconti's Death in Venice, so the Romantic Age will always be (for the lucky few who've had a chance to see it) Zulawski's La Note Bleue.
The fact that the Bergman and Visconti films are world-famous, while Zulawski's has barely been heard of outside his small circle of diehard fans, should be enough to convince you (if you're not convinced already) that distribution of world cinema really has hit rock-bottom in the Age of Miramax. Trust me, La Note Bleue is an unqualified masterpiece! Having seen it once, I would happily sell my soul for a chance to see it again.
The story itself is a familiar one. The exiled Polish composer Chopin (played by Janusz Olejniak, a real-life Polish pianist with no prior acting experience) is living with his mistress, the romantic novelist George Sand (Marie-France Pisier) in her idyllic country retreat at Nohant. After years of tempestuous on-and-off passion, Chopin still loves his lady, but his eye is turning more and more towards her provocative and nubile daughter (Sophie Marceau).
How is their 'conflict' resolved? Well, it isn't, really - for the simple reason that nothing in life ever truly is. The turbulent trio entertain a houseful of illustrious guests. Among them are the writer Alexandre Dumas, fils (mourning the death of his real-life Lady of the Camellias) and the opera diva Pauline Viardot (trilling some sublime Bellini arias on the soundtrack). Sand's handsome but sinister son models puppet look-alikes of all the guests. Acrobats from a travelling circus float among the trees, like diaphanous orange phantoms.
Each one of the performances is flawless. As George Sand, Marie-France Pisier is every inch the seductive but maddening 'monstre sacre' of so much literary myth. Sophie Marceau is irresistible as her daughter - half-Lolita, half-Lady Macbeth - the first stage of her evolution from Gallic teenage sexpot to mature actress. As for Olejniak, I can only believe he was an acting neophyte because Zulawski said so himself.
In every word and gesture, every sublimely beautiful image of this film, you see the Romantic Era come to life. You sit in awe, nod your head dumbly, and think "Yes, it was really like this!" If it wasn't, History got it wrong.
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