Amadeus (1984)

Director:  Milos Forman
F. Murray AbrahamTom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge

Plot:  The incredible story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, told in flashback mode by Antonio Salieri - now confined to an insane asylum.

  Biography / Drama / Music
Awards:  Won 8 Oscars - Best Picture, Director, Leading Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, Sound Mixing.  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Leading Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing.
Runtime:  160min
  PG for brief nudity. 

I was staring through the cage of those meticulous ink strokes - at an absolute beauty.

Milos Forman’s epic biopic on arguably the world’s most famous classical composer is nothing short of compelling.  Peter Shaffer, who wins one of the film’s eight Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, adapts his own acclaimed stage play of the same name for the big screen. 

The film is set in the late 18th century and is told in a flashback narrated by an aged Antonio Salieri living in a mental asylum.  Salieri was a competent court composer who became envious when he realized Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had godlike musical gifts that he had always desired.  Soon, Salieri became mad with jealousy and began plotting the downfall of Mozart, even harbouring thoughts of murdering him. 

History revealed that Mozart was poisoned to death.  But was it Salieri who really murdered him?  Amadeus explores the myth and dumbfounds us even further by subtly inferring that it may be and may not be Salieri who killed Mozart.  The apparent greatness of Forman’s film is that it even prompts us to believe that there is a possibility that Mozart may have worked himself to death.  The mystery remains unclear. 

But Forman’s film is not an account of Mozart’s death, but rather a celebration of his life and his music and how Salieri’s own pales in comparison.  The contrast is obvious. Mozart is portrayed as a rude, impish, and womanizing figure while Salieri is religious, shuns alcohol, and has good social manners.  Yet God chooses to bestow incredible musical talent on the former. 

Stage actor F. Murray Abraham who wins an Oscar for his role as Salieri gives an excellent, nuanced performance.  And for a character who barely reveals his emotions to anyone, Abraham manages to accomplish that through the minimal use of facial expressions.  He is so skillful that the subtle acting invites us to show sympathy towards his character even though he is portrayed as ‘an ambiguous villain’ in the film. 

On the other hand, Tom Hulce’s Oscar-nominated turn as Mozart is energetic, vibrant, and he tops it up with a silly but infectious high-pitched laugh that is perhaps what is remembered best by many. 

Amadeus not only deals with the rivalry between the two central characters, but Salieri’s love-hate relationship with God as well.  This creates a triangular tension which brings a more satisfying depth to the film.  Forman’s decision to film most of the scenes in his native homeland of Czechoslovakia pays off wonderfully, contributing to the film’s realism as many of the city’s architecture dates back to Mozart’s era. 

Amadeus is surprisingly engaging despite its subject matter and that it runs close to three hours.  The brilliant selection of Mozart’s compositions (conducted and supervised by Neville Marriner) that make up the film’s heavenly soundtrack is, in my opinion, the defining factor that makes Amadeus such a sumptuous, glorious period epic.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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Great analysis of an equally brilliant film!!! Amadeus is indeed compelling and works at several levels. Mozart's eclectically chosen compositions form the backbone of the movie.

Here is my review of Amadeus:
Eternality Tan said…
Thank you for your compliments. I have only seen it once. Reading your review and seeing those film stills that you have on your site has compelled me to try to catch it a second time (probably sometime next week!)

Do you have a list of, say, 10 Favourite Films?

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