Bradley Cooper’s intimate and well balanced film is beautiful to watch unfold.
‘A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is the tension between the contradictory answers’ is the Leonard Bernstein quote that opens this sensitive and moving film about the composer and conductor – which could almost be used to describe the man himself as we see throughout the course of this film.
While the main focus on his marriage with his wife Felicia Montealegre Cohn, who has a successful career herself as an actress, the film doesn’t shy away from the fact that even after his marriage he had affairs with men. The film, co-written written with great sensitivity and insight by Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer takes you though their relationship from start to finish highlighting many of the important events in their relationship but shies mainly away from their careers.
This is absolutely fine in many ways as you get to feel a bit more of intimacy and attempt to figure out who Bernstein really was – but by the end you don’t feel as though you do and perhaps including a bit more focus on his work as a composer and conductor would have helped to shed more light on this. The film admittedly does try and get around this by ensuring that Bernstein’s music is featured very heavily in the background and the right selection of music helps to enhance the story unfolding away from the stage nicely.
There are some lovely touches and details in the way in which it has been filmed, with cinematographer Matthew Libatique effortlessly transforming the way in which the story is told. It changes first from romantic black and white to the diluted colours in the second half of the film that helps to highlight the change of tone in the story, as Felicia begins to struggle with Bernstein’s affairs, which lead to a powerful confrontation in their New York apartment. But there are also many scenes which feel suitably theatrical, at the beginning for example when Bernstein learns that he is to conduct the New York Philharmonic that night, he soon dashes in pyjamas through Carnegie Hall from his upstairs apartment and onto the stage in one particularly fluid sequence – once again enhanced by his music.
But the film soon becomes just as much about Felicia’s story particularly in the second heartbreaking part of the film in which she struggles with her emotions and then the shock of receiving a cancer diagnosis. There is certainly a rawness to Carey Mulligan’s performance as Felicia that is as much a joy to watch as it is painful – the power of her performance is such that in the range of close up shots used shows how much she is able to convey without words her emotions that makes it compelling to watch. It is a wonderfully understated performance that transforms beautifully as Felicia becomes a little more brittle about Bernstein’s behaviour. Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein manages to capture the many complexities of this renowned conductor and composer, highlighting the sacrifices that he has had to make for his art – it is a balanced performance that doesn’t shy away from his flaws as well as his assets. He clearly has gone to great depths to ensure an authentic portrayal.
Maestro has plenty to recommend it and it is a stylish and intimate film to watch unfold, however no matter how close you get to the relationship between Felicia and Lennie there is a sense that the man himself just remains slightly aloof and out of reach.
By Emma Clarendon