Paris, the late 70s. The once glorious and unmatched opera diva Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant) is slowly fading away in her elegant hotel room. Late at night she cries and often attempts to recall the celebrated moments of her career. Maria Callas is increasingly driven away from the eyes of the public and her legacy of spectacular performances is now just a distant memory.
On Callas' desk a small picture of Onassis is left to remind the diva what she could have had. The thought of Onassis marrying Jacqueline Kennedy is often painful, perhaps even numbing. It has been years now and Callas still recalls the stage triumphs, the audiences' standing ovations, and a love relationship that led to a bitter disappointment.
Having heard that Callas is now living a life of seclusion her former manager Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons) suggests the unthinkable—he wants Callas to lip-sync her 20 year old recording of Carmen, the role she never performed on stage, and film Bizet's masterpiece. However, the voice that once captivated La Scala, Covent Garden, and the Metropolitan Opera is now long gone. Callas feels that while the idea is brilliant it is also dishonest to play with the emotions of the public. Yet…why not?!
The Italian maestro Franco Zeffirelli has directed for TV some of the most spectacular operas to grace the stages around the world- Otello, Carmen, La Boheme, Tosca, Turandot, Don Giovanni, and Falstaf. In fact, in 1964 Franco Zeffirelli was the stage director for Maria Callas' memorable performance at Covent Garden in London. Naturally his involvement with this tribute to the legacy of one of opera's greatest sopranos is not a surprise.
It is hard to tell however if this truly is the apotheosis that Maria Callas deserves. The film is rather loosely based on events of the soprano's life and the story is often a product of Zeffirelli's own imagination. Nevertheless, I believe that those familiar with Maria Callas' legacy and her final days in Paris will recognize that much of the personality struggle which the soprano suffered is well recreated. The film, however, should have been much more than that. In my opinion Callas Forever only partially investigates the complex nature of the soprano diva and leaves many questions unanswered.
I don't think that the actors are to be blamed for this retrospective film either. I found their performances and especially Fanny Ardant's acting a true revelation. My disagreement with Zeffirelli stems from the inclusion of a subplot unveiling the love affair of the openly gay Larry Kelly, Callas' manager, with a younger man. It truly felt at times that there was more emphasis on the love yearnings between the two men as opposed to the complex persona of Maria Callas.
I don't know what the true motives for Zeffirelli were to structure the plot as he did. Perhaps he was looking for some sort of a balance to counter the emotional and creative struggle that Callas was exposed to. There is a scene in the film where the soprano is left to her emotions desperately fighting to regain her identity and to me she truly looked grotesque. Unfortunately so does the film if you are hoping to find a fitting tribute to one of the most memorable sopranos of our time.
Franco Zeffirelli with Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons
How Does the Disc Look?
Image have delivered a good print of the film which unfortunately is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 as opposed to its OAR of 1.85:1. I am unsure why the back cover of the DVD states that the film is presented in its theatrical ratio as nearly every other European release of Callas Forever was in its proper ratio of 1.85:1 (Italian, Dutch, French, etc). Was it really this difficult to follow up?
While some may argue that this is a minor detail of this DVD presentation I strongly disagree. I see this as a new form of "pan-scan"-ing. And coming from a company with such a good image between DVD aficionados this is rather disappointing.
With this said the image is rather strong if lacking a bit. A saw some occasional marks in the opening and closing scenes of the film. For the parts that are spoken in French the DVD offers yellow English subtitles. Spanish (optional) subtitles are included as well.
How Does the DVD sound?
An English 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks that serve the film rather well. The stage sequences of Carmen in particular sound very well.
The following extras are present on the disc:
Behind the Scenes of Callas Forever-
Interview excerpts with director Franco Zeffirelli, producer Giovannella Zannoni, Fanny Ardant, Jeremy Irons, and Joan Plowright-
Both the film and DVD presentation of Callas Forever left some mixed feelings in me. While this is a good film worthy of your time it is not the Callas tribute one would hope for. On a side note the above mentioned image cropping raised a red flag for me as it truly represents a new form of "pan-scan"-ing which I hope in the future companies will avoid. I would recommend this film only on the strength of Fanny Ardant's stellar performance.