the fresh films reviews

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Amadeus (1984)

Milos Forman
161/181 minutes
Saul Zaentz
Screenwriter (based on his play):
Peter Shaffer

Cast includes:

Antonio Salieri F. Murray Abraham
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Tom Hulce
Constanze Mozart Elizabeth Berridge
Leopold Mozart Roy Dotrice
Emperor Joseph II Jeffrey Jones
Count Orsini-Rosenberg Charles Kay
Emanuel Schikaneder Simon Callow
Baron van Swieten Jonathan Moore
Count von Strack Roderick Cook
Kapellmeister Guiseppe Bonno Patrick Hines
Father Vogler Richard Frank
Katerina Cavalieri Christine Ebersole
Lorl, Mozart's maid Cynthia Nixon
Salieri's valet Vincent Schiavelli


Review (English)

When Amadeus was released in 1984, it garnered 11 Academy Awards (winning 8) as well as several other international awards. And despite the fact that it was a 2.5 hour film about classical music, it also became a big box-office hit. The stroke of genius was that Peter Shaffer, who wrote the screenplay based upon his own successful 1979 stage play, made the most out of a possible animosity between Mozart and Emperor Joseph II's court composer Antonio Salieri. According to Shaffer, Salieri was equal portions green with envy of Mozart's talent, appalled by his lack of class, and in awe of his music. And it is through Salieri's bitter, snake-like persona we get to know the story of Mozart's rise and fall in Vienna, leading to his position as perhaps the greatest classical composer of all time.

Armed with Shaffer's cleverly concocted plot (which may be at least partly true), master-director Milos Forman had the perfect basis for making perhaps the best of his many biopics (which also include latter classics such as The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon). Mozart's carefree, almost rock-star-ish presence is largely juxtaposed against his ingenious talent to our amusement and Salieri's despair. Tom Hulce, who plays Mozart almost like a giddy queer, manages to find the balance between the fun Mozart and the serious Mozart, when put to the test in the more dramatically potent parts. And his interplay with F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, although limited to just a few scenes, has a smouldering quality: The young, sly Salieri always seems to be up to something, which may or may not go completely over Mozart's head, but we cannot know for certain whether most of it are just fantasies of the old Salieri. Historically accurate or not as realized by Abraham, Salieri is a brilliantly conducted and played character with all the traits of a full-blown, but still very much human movie-villain.

As in Forman's other great biopics, the director finds a perfect balance between honouring, almost idolizing the title-character on the one side, and showing us his unquestionable weaknesses on the other. This is no idealized image of Mozart at least not on a human level. He is wasteful, extravagant, cocky and not least self-destructive. But of course, this is also part of the appeal; what makes him human. His musical works, on the other hand, are never questioned. And there are some splendid moments when his musical genius becomes apparent to us viewers, without the help of Salieri's verification. That being said, I would personally have preferred a small shift in focus from Mozart's many operas and to a few more of his piano concertos. Although that is a matter of taste.

The original theatrical cut of Amadeus runs 161 minutes, 20 minutes less than a now available "director's cut", which the studio at the time of release didn't think commercial enough. The director's cut does give more background to some of the character-relations, but it is a less tight and more lagging version which I recommend only for fans. The original version has got all the nerve and tension needed for first-time viewers. And it manages, even at two and a half hours, to make the life of the world's most famous classical composer into a fascinating study of humanity and music, that even youngsters will enjoy to this day.

Click here for original Norwegian review

Re-reviewed: Copyright 24.1.2018 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
Original review: Copyright 5
.5.1997 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang