It’s Movie Monday and today a very witty, funny, poignant and quite robust film. It’s about one of the great love affairs of the 19th century and instead of the usual romantic and soppy cinematic excursions into this story that have been made, this film injects a dose of realism and mischief, while it does not detract from the romance of the story. The film is James Lapine’s “Impromptu” (1991).
Georges Sand was perhaps the most celebrated novelist of the early nineteenth century and one of its most notorious Bohemians, better known and more popular at the time than even Charles Dickens. Frederic Chopin was among the greatest pianists and composers of his age. “Impromptu” chronicles the meeting of George Sand and Chopin. It tells of Sand’s reckless pursuit of Chopin, of how Chopin resisted Sand’s advances and of how, despite the best and most mischievous efforts of many of those around them, they eventually fell in love and became a couple. In case you are unfamiliar with Sand, and think this is film about a homosexual couple, let me clarify the situation by saying that George Sand was the nom-de-plume of Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baronne Dudevant, a French noblewoman who liked to wear men’s clothes in public and who was one of the few female pipe smokers of her time. Unconventional and Bohemian, with a long string of lovers and two children, she continually shocked her contemporaries in her search for true independence and freedom.
The cast of the film is exceptional and well-chosen. Judy Davis is fantastic as George Sand, Hugh Grant makes a surprisingly good Chopin, Mandy Patinkin revels in his role as Alfred de Musset, Julian Sands is an inspired Franz Liszt, Bernadette Peters does a great job as the fertile and bitchy Marie D’ Agoult and Ralph Brown is good in his supporting role as Eugene Delacroix. The actors interact with each other in wonderful syntony and although direction is a little patchy at times, the script and cast make one forget this and one’s interest never wanders away from what is essentially an involving and amusing story.
In the film, the foibles of the rich and talentless are contrasted with the intellectual and creative brilliance of the talented but penurious. The stay at the estate of the Duke and Duchess of D’ Antan is hilarious. Sharp satire is coupled with witty dialogue and the way that the romance between Sand and Chopin unfolds takes an almost secondary role to the intellectual and emotional fireworks between Sand and two of her former lovers, who are also staying at the estate. Needless to say that Chopin’s music features prominently in the movie, and there are many touching and tender moments in it as well. Historical accuracy and attention to costumes and sets transports one into the period of Paris of the 1830s and engages one into the lives and times of the individuals portrayed.
Unlike many costume dramas, this is not an “epic” film, nor a melodramatic biopic where facts have been slaughtered on the altar of romantic expediency. If one contrasts “Impromptu” with Charles Vidor’s 1945 “A Song to Remember”, what I mean becomes obvious. The older film is a highly romanticised and hollywoodised version of Chopin and Sand’s love affair. Cornel Wilde as Chopin and Merle Oberon as George Sand, is enough indication of the romantic interest shown in the film. While cinematically, Vidor’s film is what one would expect of Hollywood period dramas and no doubt this famous director knows his craft and has produced a highly engaging film, this biopic is essentially “world history according to Hollywood” and in the resulting glamourised and at times schmaltzy end-result, Sand’s character was the one most to suffer.
Watch “Impromptu” if you wish to have a pleasant 107 minutes, enjoying the witty dialogue, good acting, a good script and engaging cinema. Many laughs, wry chuckles and the occasional moment full of pathos are bound to please you.