IN SEARCH OF CHOPIN
Documentary about the life of composer and pianist Fryderyk Chopin.
Review by Louise Keller:
The beauty of Phil Grabsky's series of films journeying into the life and music of classical composers is that each manages to capture the unique spirit of the composer and his music. It began with Mozart in 2006, followed by Beethoven in 2009, Haydn in 2012 - and now Chopin. The structure is similar to the earlier films - the historic information always in harmony with the all-important music. What stands out to me - in this film about Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin - is the personal nature and deep sense of melancholy evoked by his music. One of the pianist interviewed in the film admits he feels like an intruder when playing his works. Grabsky has astutely woven together an indelible portrait, offering us a rich and personal insight into Chopin the man and his music. Listening to the ethereal, exquisite piano music of Chopin is a far richer experience - after watching this informative, involving and passionate film.
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson, it is through Chopin's letters that we get a sense of the man: melancholic, concerned about appearances and a lover of beauty and refinement. Born in 1810 in Warsaw when the city was at its most sophisticated, eight year old, Chopin made his first public appearance - having composed his first piece of music aged seven. Chopin studied the composers, influenced by Bach's counterpoint and Mozart's melodic line, which allowed him to devise a new concept of sound - and a totally different way of playing the piano. I was fascinated to learn about Chopin's daily routine when he lived in Vienna and his lifestyle when he moved to Paris in 1831, where he was based for the rest of his life.
The ups and downs of his personal life are examined, including the fascinating relationship with the most notorious woman in France - the scandalous writer George Sand. Sand, who dressed as a man and shocked the world with her outrageousness - made them 'the odd couple to end all odd couples'.
Considered to be a national hero in Poland, Chopin was passionate about his homeland, having been exiled due to the politics of the time. As noted by one pianist interviewed in the film: 'You don't have to be Polish to play his music, but if you are, it is possible you may play his music more naturally.' Especially touching is the fact that his sister Ludwika carried his heart to Warsaw after his death, where it is buried in the Church of the Holy Cross, not far from where he played piano for the first time as a young boy. He was 39 when he died in 1849, after a life long struggle with ill-health and tuberculosis.
But of course the heart of the film is about the music - that fluid, beautiful and haunting music showcased in his piano concertos and polonaises. Described as inwardly turbulent, the music is acknowledged as technically difficult, beyond which it is its improvisational quality that demands it to be played with spontaneity - and from the heart. The fact that the pianists and conductors interviewed speak about Chopin's works with such passion, elevates the film into one that is intensely personal.
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IN SEARCH OF CHOPIN (PG)
CAST: Leif Ove Andsnes, Daniel Barenboim, Jeremy Siepmann, Lars Vogt
NARRATION: Juliet Stevenson
PRODUCER: Not credited
DIRECTOR: Phil Grabsky
SCRIPT: Phil Grabsky
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phil Grabsky
EDITOR: Clive Mattock
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 21, 2014