RecitalDie Schone MullerinConclusionCinemaseekersSt. Matthew PassionWinterreiseIntroduction
Ian Bostridge In A Poetic Masterpiece:
Schubert's "Winterreise"
Directed by David Alden
 
We'll start with the one film, in which Mr. Bostridge (in addition to his singing) delivers the most riveting, heart-wrenching portrayal of the protagonist of Franz Schubert's song cycle "Winterreise". It was directed by David Alden for British television.  
 
Poetic cinema is a risky business: when the film is built entirely on intuitive (as opposed to the narrative) associations, the result can be confusion and bewilderment on the part of the audience. The blame for this is twofold: no artist's intuition is absolutely perfect, since we are all guilty to some extent of neglecting our spiritual development and secondly, the vast majority of the film audience refuses to put out even a modicum of inner effort to meet the artist half way, as they have become thoroughly accustomed to having everything spelled out to them in a way that insults not only their intelligence, but also their souls.
 
Therefore, it is little short of a miracle, when a film like "Winterreise" succeeds on all levels. The credit for this must first of all go to the musical genius of Schubert, whose song cycle of scorned love manages to penetrate to the souls of even today's audiences, combining contemporary notions like "goth" and "angst" with the eternal expressions of romanticism, idealism and just pure beauty. It is evident from the start that the director, David Alden, stands squarely in the tradition of poetic, high-art cinema. The haunting opening of the slow tracking shot, the agonizingly slow movements of the camera into tight close-ups (matching the inner agony of the main character) are all reminiscent of the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, yet they appear totally fresh and "new" and unexpected in the context of the film. The inventiveness and, at the same time, the astonishing simplicity of the mise-en-scenes throughout the film continues to amaze even on repeated viewings. The middle part of the film in the white space is particularly striking: this White Light, with the main character (dressed in black) floating in and out, lends an air of eternity to this whole journey of the soul. The choreography of the camera angles, the gestures of the main character and the edits show incredible sensitivity and reverence for Schubert's score. The production has a touch of period detail, a touch of modernism - yet it all has a feeling of timelessness about it.
 
The end of the closing song - in itself, a heartbreaker - is given an ingeniously simple treatment (and greatness lies in such simplicity): with the main character backed up into a corner, the camera pulls back achingly slowly in complete silence, as the closing credits roll and the white specks fall, like snow. In the force of its impact, it is similar to the ending of Ingmar Bergman's "Virgin Spring". When a beautiful young girl is raped and murdered - and then snow begins to fall, it triggers some indescribable reaction in the soul of the viewer. After all that youth and beauty is so brutalized and wasted, the snow falling from above is like a catharsis, a purification - something that one cannot quite put into words, because it is moving beyond words. The same effect is achieved here: the main character of the Wanderer has reached a breaking point, an inner death, and yet he has to go on living. The falling snow-specks are like a sign from Above.
 
In this type of poetic, personal filmmaking the choice of the right person for the lead is critical; otherwise, the whole thing runs the risk of falling flat on its face and appearing ridiculous rather than sublime. Mr. Alden could not have done better than choosing Ian Bostridge. Without Bostridge's total inner commitment, without his deep intuitive understanding of the music and its drama, it would all have been reduced to a pointless exercise in clever camera angles. It was the amazing spiritual depth of his gaze that allowed Alden to do those phenomenally effective (and affecting) slow tracking shots and zooms into tight close-ups, as well as the unforgettable close-ups dissolving into pure White Light. At the time of the making of this film, Mr. Bostridge was just about the same age as Schubert, which makes the whole experience all the more poignant. Here we also have a record of the matchless musical partnership of Bostridge and his accompanist/collaborator Julius Drake, which can be safely compared to the legendary partnership of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. It sounds almost too good to be true, but here indeed we have the most enthralling performance of Schubert's "Winterreise" in a poetic masterpiece of a film!
 
The main character of the Wanderer in "Winterreise" is someone that every human being can easily identify with, since every one of us is a wanderer in Creation, whose path lies not only through several lives on earth, but also through various supra-earthly planes, leading all the way back to our place of origin, our actual Home, Paradise in the Spiritual Realm.