Directed by Academy Award nominee Jerzy Antczak, Desire for Love is a biopic that sheds the spotlight on the tempestuous love affair between Frédéric Chopin and the bohemian feminist novelist Amandine Lucille Aurore Dudevant-Dupin, better known to us as George Sand.
The film begins in 1831, in Warsaw, and soon segues to the arrival of 21-year old Chopin (Piotr Adamczyk) in Paris from his strife-torn country. He has to struggle to earn a reputation for himself as pianist, composer and teacher in arguably the music capital of the world at the time.
Before long, he is introduced to the scandalous Sand (Danuta Stenka), six years his senior, with a flair for cigars and male attire. And thus begins their passionate romance.
At Sand’s country home in Nohant near Paris, Chopin, moody and already stricken with “consumption” (tuberculosis), works at his compositions, while her wannabe-painter son Maurice (Adam Woronicz) frets and fumes at this new man in his mother’s life, and daughter Solange (Bozena Stachura) uses every trick in the book to seduce her mother’s lover.
What follows is a dizzying fairground collision of emotions and egos that leave the viewer rather dazed in an effort to keep up. Their ill-fated trip to Majorca in 1838, which began with the noblest of intentions (Sand’s initiative to give Chopin a change of scene, and warm weather to nurse him back to health), goes horribly awry as the elements and the inhabitants of the island conspire to turn it into a living hell.
The liaison between these two creative geniuses inevitably snaps, and Chopin’s physical decline follows very quickly. The film ends with Chopin’s heart returning home, quite literally, to his beloved Warsaw.
Stenka shines in her searing portrayal of Sand, as she juggles her roles of lover, nurse, mother, feminist, breadwinning writer, all at once. Adamczyk’s Chopin seems self-absorbed, petulant, often childish, but this is more a comment on the script than on his performance.
The plotline, though factually based, does not necessarily make great cinema, and segments of the narrative border on the voyeuristic. There are glaring omissions as well; for instance the contribution of Sand’s novel Lucrezia Florini (a sordid, thinly-disguised allusion to the Chopin-Sand dalliance) to the dissolution of their affair is not even mentioned. Nevertheless, the cinematography is first-rate, with a no-stone-unturned approach to costumes and overall period authenticity. The pièce de résistance is of course Chopin’s own timeless music, which underpins the entire film score. The contribution of music heavyweights like Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, and Vadim Brodski to the soundtrack add even more glitter, and make the film a must-hear, if not necessarily a must-see.
Of additional interest to music-lovers is a cameo appearance by Liszt (Michal Konarski) playing Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude, no less! and the tidbit where a ditty played by Chopin’s manservant Jan on his fiddle supposedly becomes the inspiration for one of his Mazurkas.
Incidentally, this film shares similarities with another entrant, at another film festival here (IFFI 2009), Coco and Igor, which featured the purported love affair between Stravinsky and Coco Chanel.
(This article appeared in the Herald, Goa India on 16 May 2010)