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This film is not a biography of Mozart; rather it is a tale of obsession and revenge.  Antonio Salieri, himself a famous and respected composer, is a great admirer of Mozart’s work, but when he meets Mozart, he is upset that such a tremendous talent is in the hands of a vulgar and crass person.  (Note: I do not know how realistic the portrayal of Mozart as shown in this film is, but certainly according to Mozart’s letters, he had a crude sense of humour.)  Salieri cannot believe that God has chosen to channel such beauty through Mozart, and is upset that Mozart will probably be remembered for all time, while he himself will probably sink into obscurity.  The film starts with the attempted suicide of Salieri, after which the story is told mainly in flashback, with Salieri recounting to a Priest how he came to know Mozart, and eventually seek revenge upon the young composer for his talent, of which he was so jealous.

F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Salieri (one of eight Oscars eleven nominations for this film), and I can see why (although he was up against Jeff Bridges for Starman, and when Jeff is up for an Oscar, I always always always root for him to win!)  Additionally, Tom Hulce, who played Mozart, was nominated for the same award.  He too put in an excellent performance, but I do think that Abraham had the edge here.  He does a fine job of making us understand his motivations, and the reason that he both detests and admires his rival.  Despite his underhand behaviour, he does elicit some sympathy for his pains.

Naturally, the music is sublime.  I am not a particular fan of classical music or opera, both of which feature prominently in this film, but I could certainly appreciate it in this context.  The costumes were also very lavish and beautiful, and the Oscar which was won for Best Costume Design was also very well deserved.

There was some comic relief, mainly provided by Hulce, but this was mainly a touching and somewhat disturbing film – and when I say disturbing, I mean it in a good way.  It demonstrates how a sane and rational person can let their jealousy turn to obsession, and cause them to act out of character; in the hands of a lesser actor, this might not have worked, but fortunately, F. Murray Abraham handles it incredibly well.  It’s not a short film; I saw the director’s cut which is just shy of three hours – but it is an enjoyable and absorbing watch.  I would certainly recommend it, whether or not you are a fan of Mozart’s music.

Year of music: 1984

Director: Milos Forman

Producers: Michael Hausman, Bertil Ohlsson, Saul Zaentz

Writer: Peter Shaffer

Main cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones

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