Four Last Songs
August 27, 2007
Four Last Songs (2007) derives its title from the last pieces of music composer Richard Strauss wrote for his wife before he died and, not surprisingly, dealt with grandiose notions of life and death – themes that this film clumsily tries to examine but with little success.
Larry (Tucci) is an ex-patriot living on a small Mediterranean island. He plays piano in a local bar with his partner and girlfriend, Miranda (Stevenson). One of Europe’s most famous composers lived in the island’s village and Larry hopes to stage a concert celebrating the man’s work but has to convince his widow, Veronica (Paredes) first and also keep her away from Helena (Seigner), the composer’s muse. An opportunistic Englishman (Bonneville) and his ne’er do-well brother (Ifans) also converge on the island. As if Larry doesn’t have enough problems, a daughter (Malone) he never knew he had pops up, having spent years tracking him down. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with neurotic Miranda. Predictably, the logistics for Larry’s concert get increasingly more complicated as he tries to keep several balls in the air at once.
The island’s location is never identified exactly but it seems like a nexus for people from all over the world as the United States, England, France and Spain are all represented. Character after character is introduced and they begin to pile up as each one angles for screen time. Ensemble films are a tricky juggling act as the director has to give the cast of character actors just the right amount of screen time without upsetting the balance. A filmmaker like Robert Altman was a master at doing this. When it works, like in Home for the Holidays (1995), the results are memorable. When they don’t, like in Club Paradise (1986), or this film, it’s like a cinematic train wreck.
The film feels a bit scattered in terms of rhythm as it lacks any kind of beats that provide a structure. Francesca Joseph, who wrote and directed the film, got her start in the theatre and making documentaries. Her lack of feature film experience is glaringly apparent. All of the characters exhibit quirky personality traits portrayed colourfully by the cast but with no real purpose. If you’re a woman chances are that you will hate this film. All of the female characters are two-dimensional stereotypes right out of a bad soap opera: there’s the jealous girlfriend, the bitter widow, the vampy whore and the jaded, twentysomething daughter. On the plus side, the setting (Mallorca) is postcard beautiful with lush vegetation and vintage, rustic villas.
Four Last Songs resembles a romantic comedy spin on Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993) mixed with Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1973) but with the brilliance of either. Joseph’s film features a bafflingly impressive cast of well-known character actors playing eccentric characters but one gets the sneaking suspicion that this gig was seen by the actors as a chance to spend time in a beautiful European location and get paid for it.