by Niki Stein
We do not see in Louis van Beethoven a composer at work. We do not witness the creative process that led to the birth of some of his most famous compositions. Not the end result, but what, fundamentally, led to it. An undoubtedly winning idea, which, however, made Niki Stein’s feature film an excessively dispersive work, in which the director himself seems too cold towards his protagonist and his works.
The Three Ages of Beethoven
The life of the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven has inspired numerous filmmakers over the years. Suffice it to mention, even if only in Austria, the famous Eroica, directed by Walter Kolm-Veltée in 1949 and starring an excellent Ewald Balser in the title role. On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, however, it was decided to stage the life of Ludwig van Beethoven in a completely innovative way. Thus, the TV feature film Louis van Beethoven was made, directed by Niki Stein in 2020, produced by Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria, and starring renowned Tobias Moretti in the role of an elderly Beethoven.
Louis van Beethoven, therefore, develops on three temporal levels. Firstly, we have a child Beethoven (when he was still called Louis by his father, precisely), used to take piano lessons, performing for the first time in small theatres in Bonn and immediately showing a precocious talent. The second time level presents us a teenage Beethoven (played by Anselm Bresgott), in love with the noblewoman Eleonore (Caroline Hellwig) and about to move to Vienna in order to take lessons from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Manuel Rubey).
Finally, we find ourselves in 1926, near Krems, in Lower Austria. Beethoven is now worldwide famous and appreciated, although he often finds himself in financial difficulties. Deaf for some time now, the composer goes for a few days to his brother Johann’s (Cornelius Obonya) house, with whose wife, however, he cannot get along.
Louis van Beethoven, therefore, focuses mainly on the composer’s formative years and his later years, showing us a Ludwig van Beethoven in some ways different from how we have always imagined him. Brave, rebellious and dreamy as a child, shy and in love as a teenager, irascible and often temperamental as an adult, the composer is here the real focus. Often at the expense of his own artistic work and his approach to music.
The Ludwig van Beethoven depicted here is a Ludwig van Beethoven who is extremely eager for freedom and truth (his meeting, as a child, with the actor Tobias Pfeiffer, played by Sabin Tambrea, is particularly significant in this regard). A courageous and non-conformist Ludwig van Beethoven, who will maintain this attitude throughout his life. To this end, Niki Stein’s narrative approach is undoubtedly interesting, if one wants to consider the true ‘essence’ and personality of the composer. The end result, however, despite good initial intentions, is often problematic.
In Louis van Beethoven, in fact, the director – with the exception of Ludwig’s early compositions – ‘cuts out’ all discourse concerning the very music he wrote. We do not see, in Louis van Beethoven, a composer at work. We do not witness the creative process that led to the birth of some of his most famous compositions. Not the end result, but what, fundamentally, led to it. An undoubtedly winning idea, which, however, made this important feature film by Niki Stein an excessively dispersive work, within which the director himself seems too cold towards his protagonist and his works. And if to all this we add a sometimes clumsy direction, strongly penalised by an editing that often gives us the idea of half-cut scenes, this Louis van Beethoven turns out to be a rather disappointing film, which, alongside an important cast and well-designed sets, fails to hit the mark, and unfortunately never really manages to empathise with its protagonist.
Original title: Louis van Beethoven
Directed by: Niki Stein
Country/year: Germany, Czech Republic, Austria / 2020
Running time: 120’
Genre: biographical, drama
Cast: Tobias Moretti, Colin Pütz, Anselm Bresgott, Ulrich Noethen, Ronald Kukulies, Caroline Hellwig, Peter Lewys Preston, Silke Bodenbender, Cornelius Obonya, Johanna Gastdorf, Sabin Tambrea, Manuel Rubey, Cloé Heinrich, Tatiana Nekrasov, Gabriela Lindl, Heinz Weixelbraun
Screenplay: Niki Stein
Cinematography: Arthur W. Ahrweiler
Produced by: ARD Degeto Film, Eikon Media GmbH, WDR/Arte, ORF