When Beethoven's musical scribe Wenzel Schlemmer (Ralph Riach, "The House of Mirth ") falls ill just as the maestro is in the final throes of preparing for a public performance, he calls upon a Professor of musical composition for his best student. Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger, "Troy," "Joyeux Noël") arrives and is deemed unsuitable, especially for 'the Beast,' as Schlemmer refers to his boss, but Anna is determined and she stands her ground until she is "Copying Beethoven."
The screenwriting team of Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson ("Nixon," "Ali") give the real life composer a feminist reimagining and director Agnieszka Holland ("Washington Square," "Julie Walking Home") delivers a film of decidedly mixed, even weird, results. Diane Kruger is fine in a dubiously defined role, but as Beethoven, Ed Harris ("Pollock," "A History of Violence") veers from childish wonder to bestial boorishness in a strange, if always watchable, performance. In his calmer moments, Harris delivers dialogue that give us insight into the creation of musical art, but it's as if he cannot map his physicality to his words - when his character is introspective, the actor gives Beethoven an unconvincing wide-eyed earnestness, but when the composer rages, Harris looks the part but over emotes questionable lines.)
The film begins with an unnecessary and awkward death scene, before rewinding to Holtz's arrival in Vienna. Here is a woman who wishes to become a composer and dares to 'correct' the Ninth Symphony. She lodges with her aunt, Mother Canisius (Phyllida Law, "Saving Grace"), in a convent, but is subjected to Beethoven's nudity in his squalid rooms. Her aunt does not approve and her intended, architectural student Martin Bauer (Matthew Goode, "Match Point," "Imagine Me & You"), finds the maestro's music boring (the film is vague regarding Beethoven's contemporary relevance in 1824). The man who proclaims 'Loneliness is my religion,' is shown having a soft spot for nephew Karl van Beethoven (an unseasoned Joe Anderson), tolerance for the innkeeper (Angus Barnett, "Finding Neverland") who serves his meals, and disdain for everyone else. When Anna's fiance presents his model bridge design at a prestigious competition, Beethoven arrives to call it soulless and smash it to pieces. Having to chose between the two, Anna returns to her maestro to feed her artistic need.
The climatic debut of the Ninth Symphony, which the deaf composer conducts with prompting from a hidden Anna, is almost reason enough to recommend the film. It's a stunningly staged sequence and the music is glorious. But the film is too confused, clashing the modern (the feminist bent, Anderson's poor performance) with the historical and ofttimes having it both ways, mostly concisely demonstrated by Beethoven's neighbor. The old woman (Matyelok Gibbs, "Babel") is found sitting on a landing by Anna and confesses that her favorite time is when her neighbor is gone so that she may sit in silence and enjoy the outside air. But then she states she is the envy of all Vienna and has the unparalleled position of hearing his work first. The film's most successful agenda is in linking Beethoven's inspiration to God and nature and noting his revolutionary methods.
"Copying Beethoven" may be a muddle, but serious fans of the composer's work should take a look.
Robin did not see this film.
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