Copying Beethoven

Copying Beethoven

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

If you've seen one film about a frequently drunken musician with a God-given talent and the social skills of a baboon, you could be forgiven for thinking you've seen them all. Copying Beethoven is really no exception and it plays out its movements in precisely the expected sequence despite the breathtakingly beautiful imagery employed by director Agnieska Holland. If it thinks it can be different by centering its story on a woman, a young would-be composer working as a copyist in the hope of learning something, it's wrong - that just opens it up to a whole new set of clich├ęs. It is left entirely dependent on two things: the strength of the performances, and the music. With the former, it certainly holds its own; with the latter, it could hardly fail.

The subject this time is Beethoven, dear old Ludwig Van, whose grotesque presence towers over the story as it inevitably must. Ed Harris is perfectly cast and having the time of his life as a monstrous genius who admonishes any right to pity by clearly demonstrating that his mind is as sharp as anyone else's; he just doesn't like most people, and he has no time to waste with them; he is a driven man, tormented by his awareness that hardly anyone understands what he is doing. Though we meet him in good health, he is nevertheless frantic to let what he considers the breath of God pour out of him as fully as possible before his mortal span comes to an end. It's a performance on a grand scale. Pity, then, poor Diana Kruger who tries and fails to match him. She simply doesn't have the substance, and as a result the film is rather unbalanced. In turn, Matthew Goode, as the architect she claims to love, is so bland that it's hard to imagine what even she sees in him. Joe Anderson does an impressive turn as the Beast's frustrated nephew Karl, but he's underused. The story lurches about, coming to life only when Harris is on screen; but thankfully, that's most of the time.

Copy picture

Fans of Beethoven's music will love the chance to sit and listen to almost half an hour of unadulterated Ninth Symphony slap bang in the middle of the film. This may be a bit much for the casual viewer, but sit back and let yourself be moved, you heathens! If only Kruger didn't keep popping up in the middle of the screen and flapping her arms about, looking more like she's playing charades than keeping time, it would be almost perfect. There's also a good bit of Grosse Fugue thrown in for good effect, and this is where the film is interesting, because it makes no bones about the rough reception Beethoven's most sophisticated work received, even from the copyist. Rather than following in Hollywood tradition and having this willful yet devoted young woman turn out to be the one person who understands, it leaves the maestro quite alone, acknowledging that it takes a differently experienced modern ear to discern the beauty in what he was doing. This kind of honest musical understanding is displayed throughout, and it provides a refreshing undercurrent in what might otherwise be a stiflingly familiar tale. Much like the ending, which finally steps outside the restrictions of the expected melody. Be patient with the predictable bombast; wait for it to find its voice.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2007
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Copying Beethoven packshot
The last year in the life of Ludwig Van Beethoven, seen through the eyes of a young copyist.
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Director: Agnieszka Holland

Writer: Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson

Starring: Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Ralph Riach, Matthew Goode, Joe Anderson, Phyllida Law

Year: 2006

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, Germany, Hungary

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