‘Il Boemo’ Review – Deadline
The Czech composer who inspired Mozart is the subject of Il Boemo, a beautiful period biopic that premiered in competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival. Written and directed by Petr Vaclav (Marian), it is an entertaining insight into the music of Josef Mysliveček and his hedonistic lifestyle, with an operatic running time of 140 minutes. Although the film is mostly in Italian, it is the Czech entry for the international Oscar feature film race and should appeal to mature music-loving audiences.
Czech actor and musician Vojtěch Dyk delivers a dazzling performance as a musician who became a celebrated composer in 18th century Italy, and was all but forgotten by a history that celebrated the young Mozart. But the talent of the one nicknamed “Il Boemo” is beyond doubt, as evidenced by the many musical scenes in the film.
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We first meet Mysliveček as he is dying of syphilis, his disfigured face hidden by a Venetian mask. The action hastily returns to more pleasant territory as he begins a series of affairs with Italian ladies, most of whom have considerable influence and wealth.
The synopsis describes Venice as “then the pleasure capital of Europe”, and there’s plenty to enjoy about Mysliveček’s sfeats, not to mention an extraordinary scene in which King Ferdinand IV defecates into a pot ( which generated a lot of reactions in San Sebastián). But despite its sexual and scatological moments, it’s not another Amedee: it strikes a quieter tone than Milos Forman’s playful 1984 biopic and seems more committed to historical accuracy.
Initially, Il Boemo gives a lot of agency to its female characters, and it’s refreshing to see the story of a cash-strapped young man being offered opportunities by wealthy women, rather than the other way around. A few scenes touch on contemporary feminist concerns, such as when a famous soprano complains of being objectified for her voice and looks, rather than her intelligence. This is undermined when Mysliveček slaps her to get her on stage, and later ends up in her bed. When it seems like the script might question her behavior, the tone strays from comedic territory, which is uncomfortable and at odds with the portrayal of this otherwise overbearing woman.
The scene in which Mozart himself appears is fascinating. The child pianist expresses his admiration for Mysliveček, before replicating and developing one of his compositions in spectacular fashion. The attention to musical detail is also reflected in the soundtrack: an opera is heard as Mysliveček composes it in his head. The performance scenes feature enormous vocal work, mostly voice actors – several key roles go to prominent soloists, although as famed soprano Cristina Gabrieli, Barbara Ronchi is dubbed by Czech singer Simona Šaturová.
As Mysliveček nears the end of his life and suffers tragic losses, the film itself threatens to falter under the weight of biographical information. But it’s still a strong biopic that has something to say about musical creativity and opportunity, as well as the colorful lifestyle of 18th century Venetians.