Renowned Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg was a restless, complex character forever on the move, constantly searching for peace, happiness and, above all, perfection. In a series of flashbacks, Grieg as an older man returns home and summons up the essential stuff of his life--relationships, school, loneliness, death and the achievement of fame. Pianist Staffan Scheja takes the role of Grieg in this fully dramatized film about his life. The only narrative is voice-over monologues by Grieg, spoken in the English version by the acclaimed classical actor Derek Jacobi. 71 minutes.
A curious mix of sophistication and simple-mindedness, subtle nuance and ham-fisted clumsiness, Edvard Grieg: What Price Immortality?
aims not so much to dramatize the great Norwegian composer's life as to offer an impressionistic illustration of it. As we watch the elder Grieg (pianist Staffan Scheja) audition two of his G minor masterpieces--the Ballade Op. 24 and the String Quartet in G minor--for his music publisher, his memories come flooding back, acted out in pantomime as the music throbs and thunders. There is some brief narration presumably culled from letters and journals, read with understated but touching emotionalism by Derek Jacobi, but no spoken dialogue. As a result, some crucial information is inevitably lost on the viewer unfamiliar with Grieg's biography; even worse, what is given gets played out in a histrionic, grotesquely melodramatic acting style. In its portrait of the life, the film is scarcely an improvement over the notorious Song of Norway
; one hasn't seen boon companions gleefully spinning on a mountaintop or married couples miming a discordant argument with this much to-the-rafters overstatement since the early silent film era. Ironically, the best thespian by far is Scheja; while he doesn't bear much resemblance to Grieg, he brings to the part a weary prickliness that feels just right. His performance of the pained, multifaceted Ballade is equally lovely, as is the Auryn Quartet's reading of Op. 27, whose dramatic, searching innovations they reveal with a slashing urgency. --Bruce Reid