Review: Handsomely-mounted ‘Louis Van Beethoven’ is bum-bum-humdrum
The 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth finds an agreeable tribute in the German television film “Louis van Beethoven,” available now on VOD. That first name isn’t a typo: It’s the everyday moniker for Ludwig we hear throughout writer-director Niki Stein’s biopic of the legendary composer, which juxtaposes his latter days as an irascible, lonely, deaf artist plagued by debts and family infighting with his early growth as a prodigy.
We first encounter the middle-aged Beethoven (Tobias Moretti) in a mood on the way to his younger brother’s countryside home — an emotionally fragile nephew (Peter Lewys Preston) in tow, a sonata for money still unfinished. A letter from an old flame sparks the threaded-in flashbacks to boyhood days of promise and bitter lessons in late 18th century Bonn. That is when, under the shadow of unsteady political rumblings across Europe, young Louis (Colin Pütz) must navigate his burgeoning talent, a poor household under a domineering father (Ronald Kukulies) and the limits placed on creative freedom when artists are dependent on court favors and wealthy patronage.
Stein is clearly inspired by the passion and intrigue that energized that most celebrated of classical music bios, “Amadeus.” His own handling, though, of the various opportunities and obstacles swirling around an emergent, convention-defying Beethoven — including a romance with aristocratic heiress Eleonore (Caroline Hellwig) — makes for tasteful, tuneful period drama at best. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fizziest scenes occur when the adolescent Louis (Anselm Bresgott) heads to Mozart’s Vienna to learn something from the eccentric master — an enjoyably spiky Manuel Rubey — only to discover even his musical idol is beholden to royals and chased by creditors.
Of course, a crank-in-waiting isn’t as fun to watch as a genius kook, which leaves Moretti’s full-blown, rueful crab the least interesting of the three ages of Louis, and eventually the whole thing plays like a three-part miniseries crammed into one brisk viewing. Handsomely mounted if never exactly stirring, “Louis van Beethoven” honors the struggles that gnawed at brilliance but is itself little more than an elegantly tailored time-filler.
'Louis van Beethoven'
In German with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours
Playing: Available Dec. 16 via virtual cinemas, including Laemmle Theatres, digital and VOD
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