France, the late 1800s. Frederic Chopin is dying. In the large mansion of the wealthy but indebted female novelist and pamphleteer George Sand, a group of multifarious artists gather around the tuberculosis-stricken pianist, vying for his affection, lionizing his music and mourning his ill health and imminent passing. The conventional Chopin has been living with the socialist and bisexual George (who has an estranged husband somewhere), and they have fed off each other creatively, intellectually, physically. Chopin says that without George, he could not have written most of his music. His tuberculosis has progressed slowly, making him survive much longer than anyone expected. But he’s getting worse, and he’s only 36. George has a love-starved daughter, Solange (excellently played by Sophie Marceau), who does her utmost to try to steal Chopin’s affections away from her mother. Chopin himself is limp in this tug-of-war, loving all and none. Surrounding them are curious characters like George’s effeminate son who creates puppets of everyone he meets; a Polish count, a Russian man-servant, an opera singer, a prostitute, Ivan Turgenev, and a whirlwind sculptor who lends a resolving hand to the amorous intrigues.
What is the name of the school of directing where every frame is like a painting? As in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement? Andrzej Zulawski belongs to this school also. His every character is a timeless and iconic type, and the living environment is overwhelmingly lavish in every detail. The exquisite pictures become far more important than the murmuring and increasingly distant plot, insistently burning their colors and shapes into your memory.
Comparing Blue Note with the more well-known Chopin movie Impromptu (starring Hugh Grant and Judy Davis, and also from 1991), one can only say that they are nothing alike. Both movies are a spectacle, but of completely different kinds. Blue Note is a feeling; a mood, whereas Impromptu is a conventional and clearly told motion picture. Blue Note tries to evoke a sense of history, but is too dramatic to be believable.
The only serious fault of Blue Note is one of length. It drones on for at least 15 minutes too long, not really having anywhere to go, except rounding off the visual festivities with the melancholic “blue note” of the title; the final soft and fading note from Chopin’s piano pieces.
Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Cast: Janusz Olejniczak, Marie-France Pisier, Sophie Marceau, and many others
Runtime: 135 min