Actor and filmmaker Bradley Cooper was not present at the world premiere of his new film “Maestro” about the life (particularly as a couple) of the famous American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein at the Venice Film Festival on Saturday. His co-star Carrey Mulligan was also conspicuous by his absence due to the Hollywood actors’ strike.
Published yesterday at 6:41 p.m.
Cooper not only starred but also co-wrote (along with Oscar winner Josh Singer for Spotlight) and directed this magnificent and moving film about duality. Maestro, which tells 30 years of an atypical marriage – Bernstein was bisexual, which his wife was aware of – is structured like an orchestral work or a musical comedy: with its melodies, its counterpoints, its silences, its crescendos, its climaxes and its diverse tempo variations.
The director of the recent adaptation of “A Star is Born,” which premiered in Venice in 2018, sets the pace and adapts to the both hyperactive and depressive nature of his subject: an extroverted conductor paired with an introverted composer. Bernstein himself became an overnight star at the age of 25, triumphing at Carnegie Hall after briefly replacing an ill conductor that same day.
Bradley Cooper’s direction is remarkable. He multiplies the shadow play (the film is partly shot in black and white) and poetic visual discoveries. He confirms, if he hasn’t already, that he’s not just another actor with vague directorial ambitions, but a talented filmmaker.
The heart of Maestro is of course the music of the most famous American conductor, composer in particular of the musical West Side Story and the music of the film On the Waterfront by Elia Kazan.
This majestic music, selected by Bradley Cooper from some little-known works in Bernstein’s repertoire, was recorded primarily for the film’s soundtrack by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Quebecer Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
“Bradley was with me and we tried to faithfully reproduce Bernstein’s interpretations,” Nézet-Séguin told me on the sidelines of Maestro’s press conference at the Lido on Saturday afternoon. It is I who conduct the orchestra, but we hope that it is Bernstein who we remember in essence and quintessence. »
It is his role as conductor’s advisor, more than his musical direction, that has primarily occupied Nézet-Séguin during the five years he has worked with Bradley Cooper on his second feature film, which will air on Netflix before the end of the year.
“In order for the film to hold together,” he says, “Bradley had to be able to play Chief Bernstein, which was a really big challenge.” Not only did he have to learn the technique of conducting, but he also had to embody Bernstein, who had a unique character style of conducting. »
He had to be able to conduct an orchestra and be credible while maintaining Bernstein’s emotion and passion that characterized him. My mission was also to make him feel free in his interpretation.
Mission accomplished. A pivotal scene in the film, when Bernstein conducts his orchestra in a church with his flamboyant style and electrifying energy, moved me to tears. I wasn’t the only one. A prediction: Maestro will undoubtedly be cited in several categories at the next Academy Awards. Carey Mulligan is particularly extraordinary as actress, activist and wife of Leonard Bernstein, Felicia Montealegre.
In the absence of Bradley Cooper, his actors and his co-producers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, musical director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was the star of this press conference. At his side was one of Leonard Bernstein’s daughters, Jamie, author of a book about his relationship with his father, Famous Father Girl, published in 2018.
“My brother, sister and I never believed that Bradley would be so insistent on including us in his project and preserving the authenticity of our parents’ love story,” she said. The maestro cannot escape the tensions, dissatisfaction and difficulties of this marriage, which was interrupted by a separation shortly before the untimely death of Felicia Montealegre in 1978 from cancer.
“There’s a saying in Chile,” his wife, who grew up in South America, told Bernstein during one of their arguments: “You should never stand under a bird that’s full of shit…”
“On screen, Bradley Cooper looks like my father. He has his energy, his demeanor, his way of being. He was definitely the right person for the job,” believes Jamie Bernstein. Which did not prevent a controversy from breaking out a few weeks ago over the prosthetic nose worn by Cooper compared to “Jewface,” an anti-Semitic stereotype.
“I didn’t expect it. I’m sorry for offending people,” the head of the makeup department, Kazu Hiro, responded at a press conference.
I wanted to make Lenny as believable as possible. He was an iconic and photogenic figure. We wanted to respect his look, which we love. We have carried out several tests. That was our only intention.
My only gripe with Maestro is not that nose, which we quickly forget because it seems so natural, but the overly explanatory nature of certain dialogue. Show, don’t tell, as they say in Hollywood. This also applies to the biographical notes that we include in the answers: “You were appointed to such a position this or that year, won this or that award the following year, etc. » This is not natural.
A small apartment in a worship concert.