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The life of Czech composer Josef Mysliveček is turned into a lavish film about the rise and tragic downfall of the artist who influenced Mozart - from the San Sebastian Film Festival


This 130-minute-long biopic starts with the final days of Josef Mysliveček (Vojtech Dyk), when he finally succumbs to the wounds caused by a botched operation performed in order to cure him from a mysterious disease (probably syphilis). The musician spent his final years wearing a mask in order to conceal his horribly disfigured, noseless face. He died in poverty in the Rome in the year of 1781, we learn in very beginning of the movie.

Rewind 16 years. A handsome and ambitious 28-year-old Mysliveček meets a wealthy young woman in Venice. He has been living in the region for some time, and speaks fluent Italian, despite being a foreigner (he describes his Czech surname as “unpronounceable”). She becomes infatuated with both his looks and his musical skills. They begin a romantic relationship, and she promptly introduces him to powerful businessmen and music agents. He is eventually commissioned to write an opera for the San Carlo opera house of Naples, where he starts a relationship with yet another rich and beautiful woman. Both female characters are opera singers, ensuring that the chemistry that they have in bed also extends to the stage. The costumes and the opera acts are genuinely impressive, taking viewers on a delightful journey 250 years back in time. The production values are sterling.

Mysliveček eventually encounters a talented child called Wolfgang, the son of a German composer and violinist called Leopold Mozart. His influence on one of the most prolific and influential classic music composers of all time is enormous. Despite the age gap, the two develop a strong bond. It is precisely this connection that Mysliveček is best remembered for in modern days. This is not however the major focus of the film, which instead centres on his romantic liaisons and stage performances.

The plot is extremely long and convoluted, with a vast array of characters. It would require a few pages to go into all the details. Mysliveček travels from Prague to Venice to Naples back to Prague, then Padua and finally Rome, with a few stops in between. He meets beautiful women, greedy and grotesque man along his journey. A masked version of Mysliveček continues to perform for years after the botched operation. He speaks Italian, Czech, German and some French (a language popular in the elite circles in which he would circulate). I struggled to follow the storyline, and the film felt a little too long, if pleasant to watch. There were a few plot holes, with little information on how he contracted the disease, how the surgery was performed and how he slipped into poverty (since he continued to work even after he became disfigured). I cannot comment on historical accuracy as my knowledge of the era in question is extremely limited.

Il Boemo is showing in the Official Competition of the 70th San Sebastian International Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 19-09-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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