Saturday, June 11, 2011
James Lapine, 1991
Starring: Hugh Grant, Judy Davis, Bernadette Peters, Julian Sands
Despite the fact that it's not normally the type of film I would watch, I really adore Impromptu, an early '90s film based on the romance of musician Frederic Chopin and writer George Sand. Hugh Grant has a terrible Polish accent, but does a surprisingly good job as the sensitive, sickly Chopin. Judy Davis really shines as the headstrong, rebellious George Sand and essentially steals the film.
Let me take a brief interlude and tell you about my endless love for biographies of artists. It's a bizarre compulsion, considering my other tastes, but I can't help myself. I usually prefer the literary form, but I'll watch almost any piece of trash that documents the life of an artist I enjoy. I could probably start a blog covering these alone. I just finished reading Richard Ellman's MONSTER biography of Oscar Wilde, which I highly recommend and I'm about to start one on the Marquis de Sade.
The relevance there is that if you're not into historical biography, this movie probably isn't for you. Overall Impromptu is an endearing, entertaining film and tells a different kind of love story that you would normally find in mainstream cinema. I would also say that while it is a cheeseball movie, it's directed at a different audience than your normal cable-addicted, blockbuster-viewing middle American audience. Seeing as all of the main characters are major musical and literary figures of the nineteenth century, I would like to imagine that the target audience is a little better educated, which is probably why this film got good reviews, but not much public attention.
It tells the story of two artists with widely different personalities, who happen to meet and, after a number of amusing difficulties, fall in love. Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, better known by her nom de plume of George Sand, wrote scandalous romance novels and paraded around town dressed as a man. She was famous for her divorce, subsequent affairs, and for pretty much not giving a shit what other people thought of her life style. Chopin, who everyone should know and love, is obviously one of the greatest musical geniuses of the nineteenth century. In his private life he was sickly and sensitive, probably because no one expected him to live for very long.
George is desperate to escape Paris and her latest failed affair. At a salon, she overhears Chopin's music and falls desperately in love with it and becomes obsessed with meeting him. She is invited to a country get away with a group of fellow artists: Chopin's friend and fellow musician Liszt, his mistress Marie D'Agoult, George's ex-lover and fellow writer Alfred de Musset, and the painter Delacroix. Their hosts are completely ridiculous -- the duchess is an artistically overachieving bumbler (played hilariously by Emma Thompson) and her husband hates all the artists. George only wants to get to know Chopin, but matters are complicated by D'Agoult. She gives George bad advice on how to woo Chopin and then tries to steal him for herself. To make things worse, George's most recent ex shows up and demands to fight for her honor. How will she ever get Chopin to herself?
While I wouldn't say this is a serious movie by any stretch of the imagination, it's sweet and entertaining. It puts two completely different people with an obvious attraction together and shows how they work out their difficulties, both external and internal. Both characters are terrified of intimacy, which they express in different ways. It all works out in the end though, like any romantic comedy.
This is available in a pretty cheap edition. There are no extras, though I'm not sure that any are necessary. I recommend it, especially if you're in the mood for historical biography and you don't want something as intense as, say, Amadeus.