Il Boemo (2022)

Il Boemo (2022)

Movie Details

Movie: Il Boemo (2022)
Director: Petr Václav
Cast: Vojtech Dyk, Elena Radonicich, and Barbara Ronchi
Genres: Drama/Music
Release date: 20 October 2022
IMDB Rating: 6.4/10
Language: Czech, Italian, and German
Duration: 2h 20m


Il Boemo (2022)


Not long after Jan Žižek, another long-awaited and years-in-the-making project with an international cast is coming to cinemas. As shown by the example of not only Žižka but also the Painted Bird, to produce a magnificent and expensive production that significantly exceeds the borders of our republic requires enormous self-denial and an almost infinite will. This was also demonstrated by Petr Václav, until now the author of primarily engaging social dramas, led by the award-winning Czech Lions, Cesta Ven. Václav has been working on filming the life of the composer Josef Mysliveček since 2010, and after the premiere at the festival in San Sebastián, we can finally see the result.

Although the budget of almost 140 million crowns is roughly a third of Žižek’s, it is nevertheless an ambitious colossus by domestic (and even more significantly Václav’s) standards. This is also why there is an obvious effort to make the film premiere a significant event – in addition to the film itself, a book or music carrier is released, and you can go to the exhibition or on a special walking route including Prague locations connected to Mysliveček. These efforts are also sympathetic in that the prominent composer of the 18th century is better known abroad than in our country, so perhaps it is finally time for this talent of the late baroque to reach wider domestic awareness.

However, the film itself does not go so far against this godly purpose. The very first shots of Mysliveček at the very end of his life, emaciated and with a missing nose as a result of syphilis, make it clear that it will not be a pleasant spectacle for the audience. The artist’s pre-death travails are interspersed with shots of the opera star garnering fame for one of Myslivečka’s acclaimed arias, creating the unsettling contrasts of beauty and ugliness, wealth and poverty, or life and death, with which the subsequent film is largely filled

After the harsh prologue, we return 16 years back, specifically to Venice in 1765. The young and ambitious Mysliveček makes a living as a music teacher, but despite constantly peeking into a world full of glitter and luxury, establishing himself in the composing industry turns out to be an almost superhuman task. As is typical for modern biographies, a lot is hidden from us – we do not know exactly why Mysliveček decided to leave the certain livelihood of a miller in Prague’s Kampa and boldly traveled to the musical paradise in the north of Italy. Likewise, it is not easy to tell how talented Mysliveček really is as an artist, as he soon discovers that it is much easier to climb the social ladder, like Barry Lyndon, thanks to advantageous connections than by achieving mastery in the field.

Mysliveček’s prayer to God to allow him a career as a musician bears the stamp of a pact with the devil, and indeed his gradual success cannot be said to lead to real happiness. The hero is not only artistic but also handsome and charming, which opens the door for him both to the opera boxes and to the bedrooms of some rich ladies. According to Václav, freedom was important to the real Mysliveček, which is why he did not allow himself to be employed by any court, but instead composed for various opera houses. He considered music to be a service (either to God or to the sovereign), he was not a revolutionary in any respect. Vojtěch Dyk, in the main role, managed to capture this level perfectly with a muted to timid acting performance, which is very suitable for the impenetrable character.

Some scenes in the film are based on real Myslivečka interactions, but with their different mood, they seem somewhat out of place. It concerns, for example, a bizarrely fecal conversation with the King of Naples or a meeting with little Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who enchants the Czech composer with his obvious talent. Mysliveček, however, continues to mainly play social games and does not show any emotions. This is aptly described by the repeated symbolism of Venetian masks reminiscent of, for example, Eyes Wide Shut – in the higher spheres of the Italian cream, pretense is the standard, it is impossible to succeed with sincerity. Towards the end of his life, Mysliveček also has to hide behind a mask because of his disfigured face; he’s lost face and we’ll never find out exactly what he’s thinking.

For a while, it seems that with Myslivečka’s rise to the top, his social sensibility is decreasing, but this motif is only played out in one moment. At the same time, the hero complains that even though he is famous and successful, wealth still does not come. Over time, the viewer begins to search for what is the main theme of the film – the interwoven network of relationships of Italian honoraria, the unsatisfactory life of an artist, succumbing to unreasonable demands on oneself, or perhaps a criticism of the cream of the crop, which, although it flaunts a soaring interest in opera, at the same time indulges in the most down-to-earth pleasures? We don’t know. And the answer does not bring the end either, fading away as inconspicuously as Myslivečka’s life. The entire last third is considerably muted, which makes sense from the point of view of the narrative, but the viewer does not get the necessary catharsis, resolution, or completion of motives.

“I’m sick of old stories,” Mysliveček demands an original libretto for one of his operas. However, the film itself is somehow not original and brings to mind similar historical pieces such as Dangerous Acquaintances and, perhaps most clearly, the aforementioned Barry Reynolds. It is also reminded of this by the distinctive lighting, but above all by the elusiveness of the main character. By Czech standards (even though most of the scenes were filmed in Italy), it is therefore a superbly realized period piece, which deals with an unplayed figure, but in a somewhat played-out way.

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