- Fryderyk Chopin by Angelo Bozzolini and Roberto Prosseda
An early death has a way of giving an artist a shot at immortality, at least in the world of film. Rarely has a composer been the subject of more films than Frédéric Chopin, who died at the age of 39. If Chopin’s music was not enough to interest audiences, his exile in Paris and his ten– year relationship with the novelist George Sand provided filmmakers with a variety of possible interpretations of his life and music. In the wartime feature film A Song to Remember (1944), Cornel Wilde portrayed Chopin as an angry young man, led astray by a hedonistic George Sand (played by Merle Oberon). In Impromptu (1991), Hugh Grant played a sickly Chopin in the shadow of Judy Davis’s robust George Sand. Documentaries have tended to build the case for Chopin as a patriot and national symbol of Poland. The Strange Case of Delfina Potocka, by the prolific British filmmaker Tony Palmer, was a notable exception, rousing the ire of the Polish Government by reopening the case of the “pornographic” and anti-Semitic letters purportedly written by Chopin to his friend and student Delfina Potocka. Three years later, the Polish writer–director Jerzy Antcak responded with the significantly more sympathetic film, Chopin: Desire for Love.
Angelo Bozzolini’s Chopin was produced in time for the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2010, and has now been released on DVD through EuroArts. Chopin is a film that presents no revelations or conspiracies, but rather calmly celebrates the composer’s life and music. The film opens with reflections on the composer’s genius. It then moves chronologically through his life with digressions that focus on aspects of his music and his place as a national symbol of the Polish people. [End Page 600]
To tell this story, Angelo Bozzolini has assembled a “who’s who” of famous musicians commenting on Chopin and his music including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich, and Charles Rosen. Together with the contemporary interviews are city scenes of present-day Poland and Paris, and well selected archival footage. Performances and interviews with Arthur Rubinstein, Alfred Cortot, and other early luminaries of the twentieth-century piano world, merge with footage of Ivo Pogore lich, Krystian Zimmerman and others at the start of careers that were launched at the International Chopin Competition.
To allow Chopin to play an active role in the film, Bozzolini makes use of digital animation that brings the composer back to life, for example, by featuring a well-known photograph taken just before his death in 1849. Chopin’s eyes blink, his hand rises and falls, his mouth moves, and we hear him “speak” (in Italian). George Sand also makes an appearance via a photograph taken later in her life. After the novelty wears off, the effect may distract some viewers from the words they are speaking, but these moments of hearing directly from Chopin and Sand are but a small part of an hour–long documentary, and the filmmakers deserve credit for taking a chance with the new technology.
With Chopin, Angelo Bozzolini has made an important contribution to the already numerous films about the composer. The image that emerges here is one of an enduring presence, whose music continues to engage the most thoughtful musicians of our time. The film’s greatest strength is in the quality of the commentaries presented and the fluidity with which they are brought together. Viewers who know little about Chopin will learn a great deal. Those already well acquainted with his life and music may have encountered some of this footage elsewhere but will appreciate the care with which this film has been assembled.