Callas Forever (2002)

“I rediscovered my soul.”

It’s Paris in 1977, and producer Larry Kelly (Jeremy Irons) arrives to promote a punk group known as “Bad Dreams.” While engaged in this project, he learns that his old friend, Maria Callas (Fanny Ardant) lives a life of seclusion in her apartment. Kelly tries to see Callas, but he’s turned away. Kelly persists, and once he sees Callas, he’s troubled by the state of the once great diva. Callas never leaves her apartment (“I don’t go outside. It’s overrated”). With her voice gone, she’s desperately unhappy, lonely, depressed, and full of regrets for what she has lost. The opportunistic Kelly, driven by a need to reinvigorate the Diva, concocts a plan to create a film version of Carmen. Callas at first protests, but when Kelly shows her exactly what can be done with the magic of lip-synching, Callas agrees. The plan is to make a colourful film with the mature Callas using her voice from 20 year-old recordings.

While the film is fanciful fiction, the plot is weaved around some salient features of Maria Callas’ life. At the end of her life, several directors–including Joseph Losey, Zeffirelli, and Pasolini–approached Callas to appear in film versions of several operas. And while these films versions were never made for a variety of reasons, Callas Forever plays with the idea of what might have happened had Callas made a film version of one of the great operas. In that sense, Callas Forever creates an alternate history to her life, and this alternative history yields a resolution and final acceptance that shows Callas coping with the regrets she suffered in life.

There are few actresses who could play Callas with the grace and steely presence required to carry this role. Fanny Ardant is incomparable as the legendary Callas. This is an incredible portrayal of a proud tempestuous woman who had a marvelous gift and died far too young. Director Zeffirelli is well known for creating colourful fantasies that appeal to the eye of the audience. Callas Forever is a typical Zeffirelli film–he doesn’t require much from his audience, and Callas Forever  fits into that mold. It’s lively, sumptuous, and not too much thought is required from the viewer. Fanny Ardant fans should find the film rewarding. She’s a delight to watch.

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