Trailer for The Maestro/Netflix
Score: Three and a half stars out of five/Walla system!, image processing
We all miss the days before the seventh of October. Even the scandals were less infuriating. A year ago, for example, the internet was (a little) fuming when it was revealed that Bradley Cooper had cast himself in "The Maestro," his film about the Jewish-American composer Leonard Bernstein, and worse, wore a nose for the role, perpetuating one of the most offensive stereotypes about Jews and their appearance.
One can continue to debate whether only Jews should play Jews on screen, but one thing is certain: it would have been more pleasant when American anti-Semitism manifested itself in stuffy noses, rather than joy at the death of Israelis and calls to exterminate more of them.
Either way, despite the wrath of many Americans, Israel still exists, and its movie theaters are open. This weekend, "The Maestro" premieres, after festive and successful premieres at the Venice and New York festivals, after an even more successful commercial distribution in the United States, and two weeks before it premieres on Netflix - here too.
The scandal surrounding him seems so negligible in the distance of time. From "The Maestro"/Jason McDonald
The film describes how Bernstein became one of the central figures in the American cultural world - writing the music for canonical works such as West Side Story, directing the New York Philharmonic, making classical music accessible to the masses on television shows and what not. It begins on the day he got his first chance, due to the illness of the orchestra's permanent conductor, and continues until his last days, when he was already a living legend.
Of course, "The Maestro" has quite a few musical pieces, but it's not a musical. Not least on the professional side, the film focuses on Bernstein's personal life, and his complex identity. Throughout his life, he had relationships with men, but like many famous personalities of the time, he was forced to stay in the closet, hiding his sexual identity from the public eye. The composer was married to Felicia Montealegre, a Chilean-Costa Rican actress whom he met by chance at a party, and she fell in love with him and also converted to Judaism for him. At least according to this biographical drama, he loved her too, and did not marry her for convenience alone.
Carey Mulligan plays Montalegre, whose volume in the film is almost as central as Bernstein's. In fact, instead of "The Maestro," a name that is admirable for men, he could be called "Leonard and Felicia" or something along those lines. The same can be said about another recently released film biography, "Napoleon", which should have been called "Napoleon and Juliette". So why did they choose the shorter, more masculine names? Probably for commercial reasons.
Larger than life. From "The Maestro,/Jason McDonald
Cooper and Mulligan put on two of the best displays of their careers here. Without paperwork or imitation, they manage to assimilate into the characters convincingly. The actress is good at embodying in her facial expressions the turbulent inner world of Montealegre, whose love of her life led a double life, sometimes hiding it from her as well. A particularly moving scene takes place in the opera, reminiscent in its intensity of the climactic moment of "Portrait of a Girl on Fire", which took place in a similar situation.
One moving scene depicts the moment Montealegre discovered she was seriously ill, and Bernstein's devotion to her.
Cooper, for his part, plays the composer with a flair of charisma, illustrating why Bernstein is considered such a big star. Together with Robert Oppenheimer, there is no doubt that this is an impressive year for handsome and genius Jews on screen. It's just a shame that Christian actors always play them.
In this context, Cooper also avoids the composer's Jewish identity most of the time. In one of the film's strongest scenes, an older colleague, of Russian-Jewish descent, warns him that he will never succeed with a name like "Bernstein" and advises him to change it to "Burns." But aside from Jewish prayers heard in the credits and a scene in which the composer wears a sweater with Hebrew writing, "The Maestro" doesn't put much emphasis on the issue that created the scandal around him in the first place.
No less dominant than Bradley Cooper. Carey Mulligan in The Maestro/Jason McDonald
Cooper also wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer, and was behind the camera - this is his second film as a director, after the huge hit "A Star Is Born". In addition to the scenes already mentioned, the film has a few other really exciting moments, in which it makes brilliant and surprising use of the cinematic expression. Once it's an unexpected guest appearance by a giant Snoopy doll, once it's a use of a Tirez for Fires song, once it's other cinematic candy that we won't elaborate on, and all of Bernstein's conducting sequences are sweeping.
As in A Star Is Born, Cooper worked with Matthew Libatique, one of the greatest photographers of our generation, who is also Darren Aronofsky's regular collaborator (for example, in Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan). The two play with the colors and range from black to white and color, and have some other spectacular tricks up their sleeves. "Maestro" will be coming soon on Netflix, but if you're already watching it, it's worth seeing on the big screen.
However, aside from quite a few moments of transcendence, the film repeatedly falls into the traps of bourgeois and mundane biographical dramas. It jumps recklessly between landmarks, and much of its dialogue is superficial, flat, and a bit boring. A key weak point is family dynamics. Bernstein's daughter is played by Maya Hawke, a rising star and daughter of herself (of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman). The scenes between her and the celebrated composer, who tries to hide the truth about his sexual life from her, turn out to be banal and pale. In general, whenever "The Maestro" leaps forward with cinematic momentum, it immediately pulls back and shuffles for a few minutes. Cooper struggles to find an interesting way to portray conversations between characters, and there are many of them.
Guest roles: Snoopy and Tirez for Pierz. From "The Maestro"/Jason McDonald
As usual in Hollywood, the film is also very careful in describing what takes place in Bernstein's bedroom, avoiding graphic depictions of his relationships with men. On the other hand, he treats his relationships with young students with a rather jarring equanimity. Can anyone imagine a contemporary Hollywood movie celebrating romances between an elderly man and a young college student? Of course not. It's a matter of standards.
Despite all its virtues, "The Maestro" can be defined as a film that escapes from the gospel - it escapes sex, escapes Judaism, escapes daring, escapes from the cinematic creativity that often erupts in it, escapes criticism, escapes even from the name it deserved. Cooper, as we saw in A Star Is Born, is a virtuoso, but also a populist.
Careful and calculated. From "The Maestro"/Jason McDonald
But Cooper knows what he's doing. In "The Maestro," the star-director stitched together a perfect movie for Netflix, Oscar season — and audiences. The film is bold, queer, cheeky and Jewish only to a certain extent, but it's endlessly romantic, squeezing every drop of synchrin out of the larger-than-life heterosexual love story between Bernstein and Montalegre. Everything in this hit is so calculated, manipulative and kitschy. No wonder it recorded impressive box office numbers during its short tour of theaters, and will surely climb to number one on the streaming service when it premieres.
I watched the film twice - in New York, and it should be noted that judging by the age and economic status of the viewers around me, it is likely that they have attended at least one Bernstein concert in the past. Either way, they were delighted with every second. Cooper, like the icon he plays, knows how to read the room and engage his audience.
- More on the subject:
- Bradley Cooper
- Leonard Bernstein
- Carey Mulligan