In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_6svpck54r9k0mz9xcfzswrxcin

Winter Sleep

The running time of his new picture Winter Sleep, three hours and change, suggests weight, but at it happens, this movie struck me as both…

Thumb_szfdh08j9t0rfs84cspctoeanse

Song of the Sea

Visually splendid, but generically flat-footed, Song of the Sea is an animated fantasy that comes close to greatness, but is rarely as clever as it…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Meeting Venus

  |  

As the new Europe edges uncertainly toward its future, the parts uneasily eye the whole. There are not only the obvious problems of language and culture, but also ideas about work and love and art.

"Meeting Venus" uses an international opera production as a way of showing them all in collision.

The story takes place in Paris, where a new production of "Tannheuser" is contemplated. The conductor (Niels Arestrup) is from Hungary. The diva (Glenn Close) is a temperamental superstar from Sweden. The baritone is a rotund East German who thinks mostly about obtaining hard currency to use in his auto-painting business. When his voice fails, his substitute is an insipid American who is constantly reminded of how things were done differently, and better, in previous productions he has been involved in.

And then there are, of course, the musicians, and the members of the chorus, and the stagehands and electricians and painters and property masters, all members of unions that are ferociously protective of their contracts. And in the front office, management tries to keep everyone happy by taking no clear position on anything.

I imagine that if grand opera were really like this, there would not be any of it. On the other hand, productions and whole seasons are lost because of labor disputes, and the realism of "Meeting Venus" begins to shade over into the satire of "This Is Spinal Tap" in the sequence where the right union man cannot be found to press the button to raise the curtain.

The position of the Hungarian conductor must have been inspired in some ways by the position of this film's director, Istvan Szabo. He is the leading contemporary Hungarian director (with credits such as the superb "Mephisto"), but now, with the collapse of state subsidies and the opening of Eastern Europe, he, like his character, must learn (in the words of Robert Altman) to fiddle on the corner where the quarters are.

In the film, the director tries vainly to keep everybody happy all of the time, and finds that his duties apparently include an affair with Glenn Close, who is quite sincere and actually very touching during their sweet little love affair, although eventually he, and we, begin to speculate that this is not the first time this diva has gone to bed with her conductor.

There are dozens of major and minor characters in the film, and Szabo juggles them artfully, telling some of their stories and transient flirtations in asides and background action. Meanwhile, the conductor, who is married, finds himself back in Budapest with his wife and his new mistress both at the same time, and the messiness of reality begins to interfere with the unreal backstage world of the opera.

The music in the film is of a high level (Close is dubbed by Kiri Te Kanawa), but there is not very much of it, and indeed we see little of "Tannheuser." That isn't the point. The point may be that opera, with all of its romance and coincidence, cannot approach the absurdity of life. Or it may be that through art Europe must find its common destiny. If that is so, Szabo seems to argue, it will not be an easy task.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

The Ten Best Films of 2014

The ten best films of 2014, as chosen by the film critics of RogerEbert.com.

10 Underrated Female Performances of 2014

Ten underrated female performances from 2014 worthy of Oscar consideration.

Netflix’s “Marco Polo” Ends Creatively Disappointing Year For the Company

A review of Netflix's "Marco Polo" and commentary on how the company is treading water when they should be creatively...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus