Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 11/5/99
Edition - 1994 (1999) - Columbia TriStar
review by Frank Ortiz,
special to The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/B+
Specs and Features
121 minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch in chapter 16, at
1:03:36), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director
Bernard Rose, theatrical trailer, documentary Beloved
Beethoven, "making-of" featurette, film-themed
menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD
5.1), English & Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English &
Spanish, Close Captioned
Beloved is an enthralling film, with beautiful European
locations, exquisite music, excellent direction, and stirring
performances. But is it too good to be true? All controversy
regarding true history set aside, this movie is utterly wonderful.
It's an honest and beautiful film, that is more an experience than
it is a bio-pic. In the theaters it captured me, and now I have the
opportunity to be captured all over again on DVD.
Writer-Director Bernard Rose (who also made Candyman,
of all things) provides a surreal window view into the passions and
pains of Ludwig van Beethoven -- his life, his love and his music.
The beauty and tragedy captured by the direction, and dramatic
performances from Gary Oldman, Isabella Rossellini, Valeria Golino
and Johanna ter Steege, are almost soul-zapping. It's many of the
smaller details in this film that evoke so much of the emotion.
Check out the detail in the deep-color lighting and period costumes.
It just adds immensely to the totally visual experience.
The story, in its simplistic glory, is based on a letter that
Beethoven wrote to a mysterious lover. The true identity of this
love is forever lost to history, but the fun of this film is all in
the interpretation of who he or she may have been. The movie begins
with the grand entrance to the Fifth
Symphony's first movement... the intro into the funeral
of the great composer himself, Ludwig van Beethoven. We meet the
secretary Anton Schindler (played by Jeroen Krabbe), who is
attempting to complete the requests of Beethoven's last will and
testament. In the process of going through his paperwork, a letter
is found. From there, Anton makes it his mission to locate the
intended recipient of the letter, Beethoven's immortal beloved. We
then flash back to the mystery, as Anton does his detecting, and the
audience gets to guess who it might be.
The main performance by Gary Oldman is wonderful. Oldman
specifically learned how to play the piano for this film, to allow
the musical performances to look true. Beethoven, the composer,
created so much beautiful music... and ended up living most of his
life without the simple joy of hearing it performed. Oldman's
presentation of the character is as intense as it is believable. My
own opinions on Beethoven were questioned: Do I accept this
interpretation of his life? Could he have alienated himself from all
his loved ones? Do I understand why he felt compelled to do so? Do I
respect his accomplishments all the more? Regardless of my own
conclusions, Oldman and Rose explore the complexity and mystery of
Beethoven with respect and adoration. Two scenes always come to mind
when I recall this movie -- on this DVD, they're chapter 8 (Testing
a New Piano) and chapter 26 (Ode
to Joy). Both scenes leave me speechless.
The video quality is just excellent. The 16x9 transfer shows
exceptional clarity, with the deep colors well represented and with
very good contrast. The sound is just as beautiful -- the DD 5.1 mix
is clean and full, and conveys the film's soundtrack wonderfully. I
did, however, notice that the DD 2.0 mix has a slight compression
issue. I checked it on both on my stand-alone player and PC drive.
It's serviceable though, if you keep in mind the slight contrasts in
volume (loudness) level in the music's crescendos and decrescendos.
A slight peeve is that there isn't a DTS track. If any disc screamed
for DTS, this one does. DTS would have added even more depth to the
audio, given that the music is so important in this film.
There are a couple of other extras: a Spanish language track (let's
hear it for Columbia Tristar for including alternate languages on
their Region 1 releases) and a commentary with director Bernard
Rose. This commentary track is really great, as is the "making
of" featurette, and the original documentary (entitled Beloved
Beethoven). These bonus items really help round out an
already stellar disc.
I can and will recommend this SE disc to fans of Gary Oldman's
work, any music fans out there, and fans of DVD... which probably
covers just about all of you. Sure, the story may make some leaps of
faith concerning the known history this important man, but again,
that's also the fun thing about this film. In any case, the
storytelling by this cast and crew is simply amazing, and should not
be missed by anyone.