Nathalie is the name a Parisian prostitute assumes for a special mission or "private investigation." She is engaged in this unusual and secretive task by a professional, upper-middle-class ... See full summary »
In 16th century Venice, when a merchant must default on a large loan from an abused Jewish moneylender for a friend with romantic ambitions, the bitterly vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment instead.
The daughter of a brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician, recently deceased, tries to come to grips with her possible inheritance: his insanity. Complicating matters are one of her father's ex-students who wants to search through his papers and her estranged sister who shows up to help settle his affairs.
This is 1977. Maria Callas; the most famous diva in the world, lives confined in her Paris apartment. Larry Kelly, a producer friend, offers her to sing Carmen in a televised concert. Unfortunately Maria's voice, tired and worn by years and strain, is not what it used to be. Larry knows the way around the problem : a technical stratagem will create the illusion. Maria, disregarding her friend Sarah's warning, agrees with the idea and the show is a tremendous success. With that in mind, Larry now considers a new version of "Tosca". But this time, Maria objects to the subterfuge. Her decision will mark the beginning of the end for the legendary singer... Written by
By 1977 (as the movie begins) Maria C. had become very much an icon, so the movie's emphasis on her large gay following is defensible I suppose, though Jeremy Irons' paramour is simply too good-looking for the part.
There was a film called Beethoven's Nephew a few years ago with a similar issue. Serious problem arise with casting attractive males in movies when they really have no qualities apart from their looks.
The Jeremy Irons character is a promoter who comes up with a thoroughly whacked-out idea for making money off the diva in what would turn out to be the last year of her life. He talks her into it -- re-staging Carmen for a movie and having her lip-sync to a tape made 20 years before -- and what we see produced is certainly knock-down gorgeous (Zefferelli directed this, after all), but still it is an absurd humiliation for the woman. Fortunately she comes to her senses at the end and gets the film quashed. (All this really happened, incidentally.) But the whole experience saves her life, in a sense, bringing her out of wasted years of drugs and a curtained existence in an elegant Paris apartment, to an acceptance of her age and an understanding of her place in high musical culture.
Fanny Ardant doesn't really look like Callas in the movie, though in the promotional stills she seems to. She can certainly act though, and makes an archetypal larger-than-life woman believable and thoroughly sympathetic. Joan Plowright is miscast, but the movie is strong enough to bury the memory of her part. There are scenes involving a board of directors that are just peculiar; apparently there is a parallel universe out there where corporate boards meet at the top of tall buildings to talk about the investment opportunities of aging opera stars. Fortunately those sequences are brief.
Some very nice touches appear having to do with Aristotle Onassis, who arguably destroyed the greatest opera singer in the 20th century, then dumped her. Coming to understand the depth of that betrayal is a painful undercurrent for Callas in the film.
For me one of the most intriguing scenes has to do with a handful of master classes Callas gave in New York at the very end of her life. I don't remember why, but I had a recording of some of them several years ago, lost now, alas. They were notable mainly for the uncanny perfection of Callas's examples when she would sing bits of arias for the students, following some young voice's painful attempt at the same piece. In one of the class's recreations in the film, while very brief, Callas-as-teacher rises to the kind of intellectual and emotional profundity that one-in-a-million teachers ever achieve. I was simply knocked out. Fanny Ardant does her very best work here, and the sequence is the emotional high-point of the film. I had tears in my eyes during the scene, something that usually nothing less than a hobbit will inspire in me.
The very end of the film is moving and utterly satisfying -- bittersweet, tragic, beautiful, more Puccini than Verdi.
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