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TSPDT 2013: The Death of Maria Malibran

Posted by martinteller on April 19, 2013

Maria Felicitas Garcia Sitches was a famous opera singer in the 17th century.  Her father was a composer and her vocal coach.  After Maria had great success in Europe, he moved the family to New York where she wed a much older banker named Malibran, perhaps simply to escape her father.  He went bankrupt soon after the wedding, and she left him to return to Europe.  She became attached to a violinist, and they had a child.  Mendelssohn wrote music specifically for the couple.  Maria died at the age of 28 from injuries suffered when falling off a horse.

All of this comes courtesy of Wikipedia.  None of it is easily discernible from the film.  Not much of anything is easily discernible from the film.  It consists of a series of scenes, all done in a heightened melodramatic style to mirror the heavy emotions of opera and Malibran’s life.  Unquenchable passions, torturous yearnings, cruel indifference.  Women, men, women dressed as men and men dressed as women (including Warhol protégée Candy Darling) arranged in assorted theatrical tableaux.  Long, lingering shots of a couple on the verge of a kiss, silent movie-esque black & white scenes, a woman desperately chasing after a man, fairy tales and ancient legends.  The performers sometimes read from unknown texts (Malibran’s diaries, perhaps?), sometimes lip-sync with the music, sometimes their lips are moving in ways completely unrelated to the soundtrack.  The music is not only opera, but also Janis Joplin (who died at almost the same age), Bacharach & David, and Marty Robbins.

This is my first experience with Werner Schroeter.  At times the film reminded me of New German Cinema contemporaries like Fassbinder and Syberberg, but mostly I thought of Kenneth Anger.  The use of ironic music… the haunting sense of otherness… the absolutely stunning images, especially when it’s in glorious color (this is a movie made for screenshots)… and the camp appeal.  At first the film seems deathly serious, like tedious, self-important performance art.  I was really hating it.  But eventually you realize it’s not taking itself so seriously after all.  Schroeter seems absolutely aware of how over-the-top the emotions are, how theatrical, playing to the rear seats.  But he revels in it too.  He clearly loves Malibran, so much so that any biographical information is irrelevant compared to the emotional and dramatic impact of her work and her story.

It took me a while to warm up to this film and I’m not sure how well I’m reading it at all.  It’s a confounding piece of work that defies description.  But it wove a strange spell over me and I got sucked into its whirlwind of melodrama.  I could feel myself resisting but unable to look away.  I can imagine fans being very, very passionate about it.  Rating: Good (75)


2 Responses to “TSPDT 2013: The Death of Maria Malibran”

  1. nancy said

    Not going to try this one!

  2. […] The Death of Maria Malibran Martin Teller’s Movie Reviews […]

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