American conductor, composer, pianist, teacher and author Leonard Bernstein (25th August, 1918 to 14thOctober, 1990) was feted the world over for his talent.
Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) enjoyed a close and loving relationship with his wife, Costa Rican/Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn (Carey Mulligan).
She was noted for her theatrical roles on and off Broadway and her performances in televised dramas.
But behind the scenes, everything wasn’t always rosy.
In short, despite fathering three children with Montealegre, who doted on him, Bernstein was more attracted to men than women.
He and his wife had an understanding, but there were times when acting upon his impulses caused her frustration and distress.
Still, the pair always connected on an intellectual level and they enjoyed many happy times together.
Maestro is an artistic retelling of their lives, primarily focused on him.
It starts as Bernstein gets his big break at the age of 25.
That is when, due to circumstances, he steps in at the last moment – without rehearsal – to lead the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall.
It made national headlines the following day.
Bernstein simply loved being around people. He couldn’t even countenance having the toilet door closed.
He was adored and lionised wherever he went. He revelled in being the centre of attention.
Maestro paints Bernstein as a man in constant motion – a bundle of pent-up energy.
One scene towards the end of the film shows him conducting an orchestra in a cathedral with wanton abandon.
It is a draining, full body and mind experience, which goes to the core of Bernstein’s being.
As an aside, I should mention that the amount of smoking that goes on in this film is crazy.
It almost seems like apart from when he is conducting, Bernstein is never without a dart in his mouth … and he is far from the only one.
In a follow up to his highly acclaimed A Star is Born (2018), Cooper is in the director’s chair.
He took on that role after Steven Spielberg pulled out due to his work schedule.
The former also co-wrote the piece with Josh Singer (Spotlight).
Art-house in style, Maestro is as much about look and feel (read into that bohemian), as it is about substance.
Bernstein himself put it well, when he said: “A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them.”
Cooper and Mulligan make a mesmeric and insightful combination.
The start and development of their love story appears so natural – their first kiss in a darkened, old theatre.
There is heat, passion and conviction in their collective portrayals.
Mulligan ensures Mrs Bernstein is seen as no lightweight, however she takes more of a back seat.
Cooper is the show pony. He plays Bernstein as a man constantly looking for affirmation … which he inevitably receives.
Some 45 minutes in, the mood shifts appreciably as Mrs Bernstein calls out her husband for “getting sloppy” with an outward display of affection for the same sex.
Later, he addresses “rumours” with his eldest daughter.
The movie is the perfect vehicle to showcase Bernstein’s intoxicating music. Maestro features well-known works, as well as more niche pieces.
Visually, Matthew Libatique’s (The Whale) cinematography captures an affluent lifestyle with distinction.
Stylistically, the film is impressionistic and moves from black and white to colour and different aspect ratios, to reflect time shifts.
In summary then, Maestro is a feast for the senses that will hold particular appeal to those with an artistic bent.
Rated M, it scores an 8½ out of 10.
It is playing now in select cinemas and on Netflix.