Irresistible actor, virtuoso director: Bradley Cooper establishes his status as an author and total showman with this portrait of the legendary conductor.
Bradley Cooper was “born” as a director in Venice five years ago, with A Star Is Born. And it is once again at the Mostra that he confirms this year that he is a filmmaker who counts, with his second film, Maestro, a Leonard Bernstein biopic which will be available on Netflix in December. In support of the strike by Hollywood screenwriters and actors, Cooper did not make the trip to Lido, but his film speaks for him. In case anyone doubted it, A Star Is Born was not a one shot. Not a whim of an actor who makes a film to stretch his legs between two roles.
Looking today at the life of Bernstein, musician, conductor, beloved teacher (thanks to his television concerts for children), composer of West Side Story (his great claim to fame in France), Cooper drives home the point of his thematic obsessions, which he explores as a director but also throughout his acting career (see the recent Nightmare Alley). As A Star Is Bornwhose major themes he chews over and reformulates, Maestro is a reflection on the fragmented identity of entertainment professionals, these performers with out-of-phase, “split” lives, who try to combine their public and private sides, and sometimes get lost along the way. An adventure even more sublime and painful when we experience it together, as a couple.
The figure of Leonard Bernstein is a particularly interesting bone to gnaw on for Cooper, the character being as striking for his artistic “schizophrenia” (this is the term the musician used during a television interview reconstructed in the film), as his fierce refusal to be assigned to a single identity, he who was bisexual, but also a Jew whose family from Ukraine suggested that he Americanize his name, in order to be able to lead the brilliant career that was promised to him. The film, full of the same sentimental vibration as A Star Is Bornwraps around the love story between Bernstein and his wife, the actress of Chilean origin Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan, stunning), and takes the form of a virtuoso kaleidoscope, which evokes a little Lennythe puzzle biopic of Lenny Bruce by Bob Fosse.
Alternating black and white and colors, the story jumps from one episode of Leonard Bernstein’s life to another, fleeing like the plague the conventions of the well-ordered biopic, occasionally allowing itself delicious little mise en abyme ( Bernstein is propelled into his musical On The Town), prefers to skip the obligatory passages (we don’t see the famous TV shows for toddlers, and if West Side Story is quoted, it is in a shifted way) and alternates very brief snapshots, giving a sensation of whirlwind, and long scenes, of dialogue or music, which operate like pauses in the biographical unfolding, and allow us to take suddenly the extent of Bernstein’s genius, or the seriousness of the characters’ intimate wounds.
Bradley Cooper’s absolute artistic investment, when we take a step back, is dizzying: capable of delivering an impressive “mimetic” performance (that the Academy of Oscars should adore), he is also the producer and co- screenwriter of the film (with Josh Singer, co-writer of First Man And Pentagon Papers). As a director, he shows himself at ease in all the registers he tackles here, from swinging screwball to Cassavetian drama. We are very curious to know what the very music-loving President of the Mostra jury, a certain Damien Chazelle, will think of all this.
Maestroby Bradley Cooper, with Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Maya Hawke… On Netflix December 20.