With many successful technical elements that are a perfect fit for the premise, Serebrennikov certainly made an ambitious work, and perhaps there is a great movie hidden underneath this lacking final product, but its constant return to the same subjects without any further analysis becomes quickly tiring.
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It’s hard to imagine that anyone could make another movie about 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky that’s as febrile and virtuosic as Ken Russell’s “The Music Lovers,” but dissident filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov ... has risen to the challenge with his usual aplomb, orchestrating a historical melodrama that’s almost as feverish as last year’s “Petrov’s Flu.”
A sometimes mesmerisingly intense lead performance by Alena Mikhailova is the trump card of this sprawling, sumptuously mounted revisionist drama ... But for all its sometimes-crazed energies, it feels ponderous and overwrought.
Overlong and overdramatic, the two-hour-plus biopic does feature some exquisite filmmaking, in scenes where the romanticism of Tchaikovsky’s music is met with flowing camera movements that capture the action in artfully staged tableaux.
It’s a drama of dour and often impenetrable obscurity. ... Yet everything about it that’s unsatisfying is also weirdly intentional.
This is undoubtedly a vehement and very watchable drama – far superior to Serebrennikov’s previous film, the sprawling and unrewarding Petrov’s Flu. If there is a narrowness in its emotional and tonal range, that gives it force.
Much as it would be nice to report that the film lived up to its director’s triumphant return, it’s unfortunately a swaggering chore: watching it feels like competing in a sort of art-house cinema Krypton Factor, with a barrage of interpretative dance interludes, unflinching full-frontal male nudity, pulverisingly bleak mise-en-scene, and writhing mental collapse.
A fevered, hypnotizing, meticulously detailed period piece with a protagonist so monomaniacal the film could almost be considered high camp.
It’s a bold and stylish work that slips in and out of fantasy and isn’t afraid to use music and sound design as a weapon, but it can also get relentlessly dreary and oppressive, albeit by design.