(Directed by Bradley Cooper – Netflix, 2023)
Maestro is not a biopic of Leonard Bernstein, a popular and influential conductor, composer and musicologist. We do follow his career, but high and low points are marked by whirls of scenic grabs and musical snatches. The film’s focus is on Bernstein’s long and bumpy marriage to Felicia Montealegre, going from breathless first-flush intimacy, to star couple, to cold understanding, to a final tenderness. Whilst this renders the film a little thin, putting it mildly, it succeeds upon its chosen horizon.
This is due to great turns by Bradley Cooper and, in particular, Carey Mulligan, as the happy/unhappy/tolerating couple (who converse at His Girl Friday speed and with Robert Altman-style clarity). At their fashionable apartment during Thanksgiving, she tells him “you’re going to die a lonely old queen” if he is not more careful (and discreet). This prediction turns out to be true, emphasised at the moment of that prediction by the passing of Macy’s giant Snoopy balloon. There are many soirées that convey an empty Truman Capote feel, although we may have missed the famous ‘radical chic’ party as the scenes hurtled past.
Music being more talked-about than heard throughout, the longest performance piece is Bernstein’s famous conducting of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony in Cambridgeshire, where Lenny and Felicia resurrect their relationship to an extent. Bernstein was very much a ‘hands on’ emotional conductor, and this part of the gnostic discipline comes out, but we learn nothing. However, the film is well worth watching, even if it cannot teach us.