Rudy Avila | Lennox, Ca United States | 12/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Franco Zefferelli, the director of so many lavish films- among them 1968's Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor, as well as the designer for sets in big budget operas, and best friend of Maria Callas, has made a movie that "saved" Callas. This is his tribute to her. This is a movie that was released in 2002, in Paris and Rome, but that did not make its way to American audiences until recently. It's soon to be released on DVD. For some Americans, this movie is a foreign film, another Zefferelli egocentric vehicle. To others, the opera fans, this is a gorgeous re-telling of the final days of Maria Callas and a portrait of her as an artist. And finally, there is a large [...] audience that would appreciate this film. Zefferelli himself is a gay man and in the past, when such lifestyle was taboo and controversial, he could not incorporate such themes in his movies. But this, his latest film, uses a gay character (played by Jeremy Irons) who manages a rock band and who launches a project for Maria Callas to make a "comeback" when she had been away from the limelight for years in Paris, 1977, when this film takes place.
Fanny Ardant plays Maria Callas, not an easy role for any actress to undertake. There are moments when Ardant becomes Callas- she imitates the diva's facial expressions (intense ones, angry ones) and her movements accurately. Her artistic integrity is the theme. Eventhough this director offers her to reappear as an actress with vocal dubbing from an old recording of hers of her voice, Callas refuses because she has too much integrity. A lot of the moving scenes are when we get a range of emotions from Ardant- especially the scene in which she hears a recording of Madame Butterfly and she breaks down in tears. That's difficult to watch. But in this movie, Callas is rescued. It was Zefferelli's own personal fantasy that he would save her. He made her come alive again. At the end of the movie, after getting her strength back, and even killing off the memory of Onaissis her ex husband who married Jackie Kennedy- she kills him in her mind when she plays Tosca one last time and stabs Scarpia, Scarpia substituting for Aristotle Onaissis. These subtle things express Zefferelli's wish to have been Callas' savior. This movie will be a treat for Maria Callas fans. I really enjoyed it. It was powerful and moving and very well-written, even humorus and poignant. Callas is back. But then again she never left. Her legacy lives on in recording albums and the few films that captured her dramatic power."
Stunning Tribute to the Immortal Callas
DonnaReviews | Northeast USA | 03/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As one critic put it, the soprano Maria Callas was in a special class, probably one of the greatest opera singers who ever lived with a fiery dramatic quality and equally dramatic looks; she was a goddess in her prime and now a legend; a Greek, her life also had all the makings of Greek tragedy. If anyone warrants a film to be made about her, it is she. And "Callas Forever" delivers. It is a stunning film and beautiful valentine that goes beyond a love for Callas into an exploration of artistic integrity with gorgeous performances, rich music, scenery, emotion and drama. It was created by Franco Zeffirelli who knew and loved the woman, and this respect shows.
The story takes place in 1977, several months before Callas died of a heart attack at age 53, when she was living as a recluse in her Paris apartment, her voice a shadow of its former glory and her career ended. Friends are unable to reach her, but her old manager, Larry Kelly (the superb Jeremy Irons), a gay promoter of rock bands, succeeds in gaining a moment with her where he springs his idea of launching a comeback for her. He wants to make a film, using her original recordings for the soundtrack, which she can lip synch to. It wouldn't matter, he reasons, if the recordings are from years before; it is still her voice. Kelly desperately wants to rescue Callas from the tragic depression into which she has fallen; he knows the great artist is there, longing for the expression that was her life.
Fanny Ardent is an extraordinary Maria Callas, capturing the look, the excitement, the class, the temperament and power -- and the vulnerability. Thrillingly, Jeremy Irons is Ardent's match. There are times when the two of them express so much without words that it gave me chills; it is a privilege to see actors and performances of this caliber captured on film. Callas refuses Kelly's offer, having too much integrity, but he finally succeeds in getting her to play "Tosca" live one last time -- as another reviewer mentioned, Zeffirelli brings Callas to life again! It is grand, moving and heartbreaking, and rich on a scale few movies are, unfortunately, nowadays. To hear that exquisite voice again is alone sublime.
A great tribute to a legend; a wonderful piece of culture; a moving fantasy for fans, appropriately larger than life and sympathetic. Highly recommended."
Ardant gives a "Master Class"
J. Kara Russell | Hollywood - the cinderblock Industrial cubicle | 10/23/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fanny Ardant said that she wanted to do this role because the script gave her the opportunity to have every emotion, and then on top of that, she would be playinig Maria Callas (apparently she had played Callas onstage in "Master Class" before doing this film). She was right. The words "tour de force performance" are tossed around a lot, but this is what the phrase is about. Fanny Ardant proves herself to be one of the best film actresses around in this film. Ardant is simply magnificent. Fellini's direction is at it's finest and tightest here. His love of the theatrical gets its rightful venting in the scenes of rehearsal, and of the film within the film; but there are no extraneous flights of fancy. To me, Jeremy Irons and Joan Plowright are usually very much the same in every film, but they are greats, and they provide a perfect platform for Ardant to dive off of. I recently saw the disappointing "Being Julia" in which Jeremy Irons also appears. Everything that film lacks, is here in this perfect, truly loving (warts and all) tribute to an immortal great. You do not have to like Opera to appreciate this film, and if you don't it is handled here in a way that will keep you engaged. If you do have an appreciation for Opera, and for great acting...you will have moments- as I did- of chills, and tears. Much more than being a tribute to Opera, this is an excellent tribute to the arts and to artists. Brava "
Callas Forever As It Might Have Been
Laura Demilio | Pittsburgh, PA United States | 04/11/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This was a very compelling movie, and beautiful to watch. The glaring fault in Fanny Ardant's otherwise excellent portrayal, which obviously can't be helped, was her heavy French accent - in every fictionalized drama I've seen where Maria Callas appears as a character (The Greek Tycoon, TV movies about Jackie Kennedy or Aristotle Onassis, etc) Maria is played as either having a thick Greek or Italian accent, when, as any documentary will show, she spoke with a definite American accent, only with a couple of grammatical slips and vocal inflections from having lived in Europe so much in adulthood. I wonder if any drama will ever depict Callas speaking as she actually did.
It was also an unnecessary annoyance to have Jeremy Irons' character manage that unseen British punk band. We could have done without hearing that very bad parody of what was supposed to resemble early punk rock music (but was just bad 70's rock pop music, not even heavy metal) in the opening credits. All this depiction does is date Zefferelli's efforts and make an inaccurate foray into supposedly being "with it." There seemed to be about the entire characterization of Irons an attempt at a more contemporary portrayal of a worldly man being cool or hip, rather than a late 1970's ambience. He just seemed too flashy and involved with the trendy interests of the day to be seriously taken as an opera devotee who worshipped Callas and truly wanted to resurrect her career, although it made his character believable that he'd attract such a youthful, sexy boyfriend - who was scarcely developed as a character himself; should have had a more dramatic meeting with Callas, more interaction with her, etc - it would have been fine to develop the interesting gay love story a little more, see what happened to the characters and their relationship (salvagable, resurrected?) after Callas died, their sad reactions to her demise and so forth - but then again, it was "right" that the last scene was Callas strolling away in the Paris sunlight.
I give this movie 4 stars for the effort, for the sheer beauty of the film and the fact that there isn't a single dull, draggy moment - the viewer is mesmerized throughout, and the best scenes, accent aside, are of Callas as a lonely recluse in her elegant Avenue Foch apartment, taking pills and being anxiously attended to by her faithful maid Bruna. Ardant as Callas miming to the Madame Butterfly recording is heartbreaking. I'm glad Franco Zeffirelli at least came close to realizing his dream and making the film about Callas he always wanted to.
A Fitting Crown to a Phenomenal Career: Callas Lives...Almos
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 06/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"CALLAS FOREVER is a beautifully written, tenderly directed and acted tribute to the immortal Maria Callas by a man who knew her as well as anyone - Franco Zeffirelli. The fantasy of placing Callas on film for posterity in the last year of her life, the year she died of heart failure, when her voice was gone but her artistry remained is the means by which Zeffirelli memorializes the Diva and in every way he succeeds.
The year is 1977 and Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant) is in seclusion in her Paris apartment, grieving over 1) her beloved Aristotle Onassis who left her for Jacqueline Kennedy and then died and 2) her disastrous farewell concert in Japan which ended her magnificent career with a flop. No longer able to sing she lives in the past, listing to her old recordings and taking pills. Only her constant maid Bruna (Anna Lelio) is allowed to comfort her with occasional visits from her warm-hearted publicist Sarah Keller (Joan Plowright).
In Paris for the promotion of a punk group Bad Dreams is Larry Kelley (Jeremy Irons) who has just met and bedded a young artist Michael (Jay Rodan): Kelley had been Callas' agent in her heyday and Michael has been creating paintings inspired by her recordings. Seeing Michael's obsession over Callas whom he has never seen perform forces Kelley to visit Callas, their devotion to each other is 'rekindled' and Kelley proposes a film version of Callas not only to bring her out of her depression but to capitalize on the fact that present and future generations should have a filmed account of the penultimate opera singer of the 20th century.
Callas is recalcitrant at first, not wanting to produce a fraudulent film made using her old recordings dubbed onto the sound track of a current staging, but she finally resolves her hesitancy by granting the filming of 'Carmen', a role she recorded but never played on the stage. Thus the project is launched and Callas is revitalized and happy again, being satisfied with the miracle of technology that allows her to invest her energies in the acting of Carmen while consenting to lip-synch to her old recordings. She even has a say in the casting of the other roles, especially Don Jose - Marco (a very hunky Gabriel Garko, a former model and Mr. Italy!). She retains her temper tantrums and demands for perfection that hallmarked her real career, doing her own dancing, having a say about costumes, etc.
The film is eventually finished and the result is magnificent. There is even some intrigue when Marco shows more than a little interest in her (a hint of the Strauss Marshallin/Octavian encounter). But alas at the end of the film Callas is forced to admit that her youth cannot be regained and decides the film is a 'fraudulent work' is not compatible with her life's devotion to truth in music. She asks Kelley to destroy it. How these two come to grips with their individual lives (Kelley's Michael has left him and he is once again as alone as Callas) is finessed by one of the most tender endings on film.
Fanny Ardant is a miracle as Callas: she inhabits her physically, understands Callas' facial features as she lip-synchs her operas, and seems to be a reincarnation of the Diva. Jeremy Irons gives one of the finest performances of his rich career as the aging gay agent and Joan Plowright adds just the right amount of lightness and grace as Sarah Keller - wise, acerbic, yet supportive of both Callas and Kelley. The scenes of Paris are correctly nostalgic: the sets for 'Carmen' by Carlo Centolavigna create a gold standard for all future true productions of 'Carmen'. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent.
Zeffirelli has succeeded in giving us a memorial to Maria Callas and for that the opera world will be forever grateful. The passages of the many arias used in this film are among the finest versions Callas recorded. Everything about this work is brilliant and it deserves the widest audience possible. Grady Harp, June 05"