Language: English, Italian, Latin, German
Genre: Biography, Music, Drama
Director: Milos Forman
Screenwriter: Peter Shaffer
Cinematography: Miroslav Ondrícek
F. Murray Abraham
From the most important contemporary Czech director Milos Forman, whose sole work I have watched before is THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) and he has gotten hold of two Oscar wins for BEST DIRECTOR, one for this film and another one for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975), which seems to stay in my must-see list forever.
Being illiterate to classic music, my ignorance surprisingly doesn’t spoil my appreciation of this biographic masterpiece about Mozart and Antonio Salieri, a one-sided chicanery between the innocent genius and the jealousy-driven lesser-known. Scrupulously structuring, with a cut-back opening starts in the asylum, a lunatic Salieri recounts his rivalry with Mozart to a young priest who hopes to receive his confession. The story is told with intermittent elucidations from Salieri (facing the priest), to stress on the contexts of his love-and-hate battle with Mozart, whom he reckons sent by God to test his devotion and loyalty, and when he has been continuously humiliated and eclipsed by Mozart’s unparalleled talent, his feeble mental state commences twisting the God’s will and scheming to destroy Mozart covertly, which he has finally succeeded, but also boomeranged on himself, what’s more impressively done is Mozart, even till his eternal rest, is still unaware of Salieri’s shenanigans and ironically believes him as his best friend.
Accompanying by Mozart’s canon, the film is pristinely remarkable in almost every facet in spite of its 28 annual rings, screenwriter Peter Shaffer concocts an intriguingly dexterous storyline without confining his two protagonists into a stereotypical mire of good and evil, which are exemplified in both characters with an intelligent instillation. The two leading actors, the Oscar-winning F. Murray Abraham (whose trashy post-Oscar career is a mystery to me) and his fellow co-nominee Tom Hulce (whose ebbing post-Oscar nomination career is another case here) are beamingly satisfying to watch on screen, Abraham has more angles to show off Salieri’s manifold flaws and inward confrontations; while Hulce’s droll invention of an eccentric nonconformist prodigy requires more grit and artistry in my opinion (now my mind is clogged up with Mozart’s squeaky and hysterical laughter). A baby-face Elizabeth Berridge and a restrained Jeffrey Jones (who could have thought he was quite handsome in his youth) have done their best bit to be the foils as Mozart’s money-seeking wife and a congenial Emperor Joseph II with a meretricious taste in music respectively.
Since now most biopics are in a stasis of narrative sterility and vapid resources, this film could be used as a textbook reference, picking a different position, leaving more room to let audience to do the assessment, or simply finding a more contradictory pair of a legend and his/her antagonist.