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This Beethoven Saga Won’t Evoke Any Ode To Joy

Jack Mathews Newsday

‘Immortal Beloved’

Theaters: Newport cinemas.

Cast: Directed by Bernard Rose and starring Gary Oldman, Jeroen Krabbe, Isabella Rossellini, Valeria Golino, Johanna Ter Steege

Running time: 123 minutes

Rated R

After his death in 1827, at the age of 56, three letters were found among the effects of composer Ludwig van Beethoven, addressed but never mailed to a woman identified only as “Immortal Beloved.” For 167 years, the woman’s identity has remained a mystery to historians and biographers, but it couldn’t elude the deductive powers of writer-director Bernard Rose.

“It is not the solution that any of the Beethoven biographies have come up with,” Rose says, of the jawdropping revelation of his “Immortal Beloved,” “but I defy any of them to prove me wrong.”

I would defy any of them to stay awake. Rose has turned his version of the mystery into such a convoluted mess, and made such a poor case for his theory, it isn’t compelling as fictional drama, let alone biographical insight.

It is too bad. Rose is obviously a talented director; the scenes within his scrambled context are vibrant with energy and demonstrate a genuine feel for the madness of Beethoven and the emotional impact of his music. He also got a smart, passionate performance from Gary Oldman, who portrays the deaf and ill-tempered genius over the last three decades of his life.

But in choosing to tell the story in the style of a cheap whodunit, teasing us with clues and red herrings, and setting up the revelation as if it were the last act of a Sherlock Holmes tale, Rose defused the real power of his story. He kept Beethoven’s secret lover such a secret, we gasp out of disbelief, not sweet surprise.

Beethoven’s letter - there’s just one in the movie - is the lone piece of evidence leading his secretary, Anton Schindler (Jeroen Krabbe), to the hotel where the maestro’s lover had apparently stayed, then to three different women in his life - the Countess Guicciardi (Valeria Golino), to whom Beethoven had proposed as a young man; the Countess Erdody (Isabella Rossellini), who rescued him from embarrassment at a court concert where his deafness was exposed, and his brother’s widow Johanna (Johanna Ter Steege), whose child he had legally taken from her and raised to become his hearing alter ego at the piano.

Had Rose told the story as linear, straightforward biography, critics might be comparing it to “Amadeus.”

But it is a maze, and when you finally get to the center, all you remember is the trouble you had getting there.

MEMO: See also sidebar which appeared with this story under headline “Other views”

See also sidebar which appeared with this story under headline “Other views”

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