Renaissance vocal music meets contemporary visuals in John La Bouchardiere's The Full Monteverdi (2007), a complex story about six couples struggling to overcome their differences. Under the tunes of Claudio Monteverdi's Fourth Book of Madrigals (1603) pic aims to reveal emotions music only partially suggests.
An unconventional approach to appreciating the music of Monteverdi is what La Bouchardiere offers in his part-theater part-cinema The Full Monteverdi (60 min). Bringing contemporary resonance to the texts from a set of Italian madrigals the couples are faced with the difficult task of recreating a dramatic feel via a style that isn't openly suggestive of it.
With the strict canonic structure of Monteverdi's music extremely difficult to align with modernity music and text are coerced into a flow of emotions which each of the couples, made up of a singer and an actor, shares with the viewer. Unlike traditional cinema, however, their lines are sung not spoken.
How far 16th century texts could go in revealing the complexity of contemporary relationships while imitating cinema verite is a question I am unsure many would be able to immediately address. The characters here are far less transparent than many are obviously accustomed to seeing in "regular" cinema. And though the technical skills of the singers are impressive it is far more difficult to be creative in an environment where artistic freedom is limited - hence, The Full Monteverdi is more attractive as an unconventional music experiment rather than a film of impressive substance.
As a project where observation appears to be the key to understanding its message, with the singers depending on the actors and vice versa, The Full Monteverdi could be a challenging viewing material for those unprepared for its unorthodox style (see Kornel Mundruczo's Johanna). But if linear storytelling isn't an essential part of one's perception about cinema then the Full Monteverdi could be a fresh breath of air in a sea of clichés.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs the print for this film is in good condition sans a few minor issues. Colors and contrast are very convincing with detail being exceptional. I did not notice any damage or scratches either. I did however see some minor combing which is more than likely a byproduct of the manner in which the print was transferred from the master. Therefore, those of you with progressive sets could find its presence annoying. Edge-enhancement is the second issue I noted with this release but to be honest it is rather tolerable and unaffecting the viewing experience.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Sung in Italian with optional English subtitles The Full Monteverdi arrives with DD 2.0, DD 5.0, and DTS tracks. The difference between the tracks here is impressive. The DTS track offers a rich and fully-defined sound easily surpassing what the other two mixes offer. The sound quality is so impressive that at times it rivals the depth of a cathedral performance. Indeed, the mixing job here is of top-notch quality.
Unfortunately there are no extras to be found on this disc. There is however a splendid 20-page booklet with revealing notes by the director of the film as well as the music director where the two address the history behind this project, the difficult the cast and singers faced while adapting Monteverdi's complex texts, as well as the manner in which the "story" was filmed. In addition, the booklet also offers info on each of the singers next to the texts with corresponding translations from the madrigals.
This is a curious and above all challenging project that truly redefines what is and could be considered as cinema. If one is willing to go the extra mile and test the message The Full Monteverdi delivers the least I can guarantee is that one will be faced with something "new". Why not give it a try?