Friday, June 13, 2008

Overlooked DVD of the month - IMPROMPTU

Afflicted with a summer cold, I spent a day convalescing. While waiting for the Euro 2008 matches to begin I stumbled upon the new iTunes video rental feature. The prices are high and the choice limited, but I was a captive market. The only movie I hadn't seen and was mildly intrigued by was the early 1990s Chopin-George Sand biopic, IMPROMPTU. I rented the movie because I'm a sucker for period romance but also because George Sand is an intriguing figure. A radical feminist in the mid nineteenth century, her fiction may be of mixed quality but her importance cannot be denied. She flouted conventions by wearing men's clothes and loving "strongly, exclusively and steadfastly" a number of the key artists of her time - not least Frederic Chopin and Alfred de Musset. An added inducement to watching the film was the fact that Judy Davis - a brilliantly talented actress - was playing the lead. I was less enamoured of the prospect of seeing Hugh Grant play Chopin.

The first half of the film passes as something of a bedroom farce, with Liszt, Musset, Delacroix, and Sand house guests of some country aristos eager to look civilised. All of Sand's lovers quarrel and Sand pursues Chopin - a provincial, prudish blushing near-virgin. It's all rather light and funny and reminded me a little of Woody Allen's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY. As the artists disperse we get to the true business of Sand wooing Chopin and we leave them as they depart for Mallorca. Here the film has a more serious, more straightforwardly romantic tone.

Judy Davis is superb as Sand. She embodies her energy, passion, opennenss and intelligence but also her vulnerability. You truly understand why men would be drawn to such an unconventional woman. Davis is surrounded, for the most part, a sterling supporting cast. Bernadette Peters gives a great performance as Franz Liszt's mistress Marie d'Agoult. She is a monster, but crucially, one with whom we can empathise. Mandy Patinkin is hysterical as Musset. Emma Thompson displays her gift for comedy as the Duchess d'Antan. Anna Massey is captivating in her cameo role. Indeed, the only bum note is struck by Julian Sands as Liszt - an utterly thin performance.

The real surprise, however, is Hugh Grant! He pulls off the accent, the provincial outrage, and finally the hesitant declaration of love. He's never looked more beautiful and it was a courageous role for a young actor - to appear so thoroughly emasculated on screen. I am thoroughly impressed!

IMPROMPTU was released in 1991 and is available on iTunes.

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