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28 November 2023, 11:21
New film explores inspiration, trauma and sorrow behind one of classical music’s most joyous symphonic works.
We’ve had Amadeus, Immortal Beloved, and most recently, Maestro about the great American composer-conduct Leonard Bernstein. And now, great French composer and pianist Maurice Ravel’s story is being told in a new biopic.
Boléro, directed by Anne Fontaine, centres around 1928 – the year Ravel’s triumphant orchestral work was born.
Set in Paris in the roaring 20s, the French-language film stars Raphael Personnaz as the composer, who was commissioned by Russian dancer-choreographer Ida Rubinstein (Jeanne Balibar) to compose a new work for her next ballet.
Rubinstein requested music that was bold and sensual – and so, Ravel got to work, facing several bumps in the road before he completed his 15-minute chef d’oeuvre, which centres around that famously relentless snare drum line.
While on holiday in St Jean-de-Luz, Ravel played a melody at the piano with one finger. He turned to his friend and said, “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality? I’m going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”
By far his best-known work, Ravel’s Boléro has taken on a life beyond the concert stage, most famously as the soundtrack to Torvill and Dean’s winning figure-skating routine at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Four cellists play Ravel’s Bolero on just one instrument
Some of the biopic will shoot in Le Belvédère, a little house on the edge of the small town of Montfort L’Amaury near Paris where Ravel spent the last 16 years of his life and died in 1937.
The Musée Maurice Ravel has been a museum dedicated to the composer since the ‘60s but has fallen into disrepair. There is hope that the release of a new biopic could spark a Ravel revival, and the house could be opened to a wider public with concerts and performances.
Filming, which began in March and wrapped in May, took place in Paris, Perros Guerrec, Meaux and Montfort, with some scenes shot in Brussels, and moments from Ravel’s US tour captured in Harlem, New York.
Fontaine, who directed 2009’s Coco Before Chanel, said: “Maurice Ravel remains today one of the most brilliant composers of the 20th century. Not unlike Coco Chanel, he was a complex artist whose art resonates all over the world.
“I wanted to explore the process of creation of his Bolero: how inspiration can feed on personal trauma, regrets and sorrow, how art can be the result of an intimate quest and yet reach millions.”
Boléro is set for release in 2024.