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THE VON TRAPP FAMILY – A LIFE OF MUSIC

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by Ben Verbong

grade: 4.5

An approach more suited to television is the first thing that we notice when watching The von Trapp Family – A Life of Music, directed by Ben Verbong. An excessively overexposed cinematography, together with a basically weak screenplay that, thanks also – and above all – to what has been written and shot in the past, seems to work almost on autopilot, are among the weakest elements of the film.

New music?

Which impact can a feature film like the recent The von Trapp Family – A Life of Music have on audiences? Ever since US director Robert Wise directed the now cult film The Sound of Music in 1956, the story of the von Trapp family has fascinated millions and millions of spectators. The famous Austrian family – who emigrated to the United States following the Anschluss – first became famous thanks to their songs – religious or traditional Austrian songs – that became popular in the New Continent thanks to their frequent shows. And if, in addition to Wise’s full-length film, Austrian director Wolfgang Liebeneiner had already directed The Trapp Family in 1956 (and, two years later, The Trapp Family in America), in 2015 another film was released, this time inspired by the novel Agathe von Trapp: Memories before and after The Sound of Music by Agathe von Trapp (1913 – 2010), the eldest daughter of the Trapp family. We are talking about The von Trapp Family – A Life of Music, a co-production between the United States, Germany and Austria, directed by Dutch director Ben Verbong. Could it therefore have been so easy for him to ‘compete’ with the other two authors who had staged the events of the singing family so well? Soon said.

We are in the United States, in our time. Kirsty, a niece of Agathe, has quarrelled with her father on Christmas Eve and is on her way to the station to join her mother, who lives in another town. Joining her before the train leaves is her great-aunt Agathe, who tells her her story, recalling how she too, in the past, had wanted to run away in order to realise her dream of becoming a singer.

The rest of the story is something we all know. Director Ben Verbong, for his part, has a long, long career in television. And it is precisely an approach more suited to television the first thing we notice when watching The von Trapp Family – A Life of Music. Excessively overexposed cinematography, together with a relatively uninspired screenplay that, thanks also – and above all – to what has been written and shot in the past, seems to work almost on autopilot, are among the most disturbing elements of Verbong’s film.

With the exception of the moments when aunt and niece talk at the station, the story told by Agathe and staged in a long flashback, focuses on the relationship between the latter and her father Georg (on this occasion far less grumpy – and far less memorable – than the Georg played by the great Christopher Plummer), as well as on her need to stand in for her mother and look after her younger siblings. Possibly without governesses around. But if, in fact, there is a sense of hostility between Agathe and Maria – who will become her stepmother – it is precisely the character of the latter that is scarcely explored. Neither is the sinister character of the butler or the relationship between the protagonist and her young childhood friend Sigi properly deepened. And what about, instead, the main focus on which the story should be based, namely music? Except for screenplay twists that only suggest the future of the family, this important issue is practically never developed. And, furthermore, there are no really memorable or even simply catchy songs in the film.

In a nutshell, a decidedly weak screenplay that only contributes to making The von Trapp Family – A Life of Music a rather banal and unimpressive film, visibly overhasty and more suitable for television than for the big screen. All this results in a version of the von Trapp family story that, in fact, was not even really needed.

Original title: The von Trapp Family – A Life of Music
Directed by: Ben Verbong
Country/year: USA, Germany, Austria / 2015
Running time: 98’
Genre: biographical, drama
Cast: Mattew Macfadyen, Eliza Bennett, Rosemary Harris, Yvonne Catterfeld, Cornelius Obonya, Johannes Nussbaum, Annette Dasch, Barbara M. Messner, Brigitte Kren, Marco Dott, Lisa-Maria Trinkl, Luca Russegger, Emanuel Promberger, Alisa Rotthaler, Helen Winter, Franziska Lehfeldt, Luna Cengu, Emma Schwamberger, Miriam Plasse
Screenplay: Chris Silber, Tim Sullivan
Cinematography: Jan Fehse
Produced by: Clasart Film- und Fernsehproduktion, Concorde Media, TMG, ORF

Info: the page of The von Trapp Family – A Life of Music on iMDb