- The Magic Flute exceeded my expectations. I laughed and cried in turns. In the opening sequence, spring meadows and Mozart’s vivacious music are set against the falling shells and falling men of World War One. Bright colours, stunning CGI and odd juxtapositions, such as soldiers carrying band instruments, induct us into a magical realm.
- Mozart’s opera is playful, mystical and symbolic. The original has the incoherent logic of dreams and is structured around the secret ceremonies of the Masons. The danger, in an often literal medium like film, would be to explain too much. Branagh makes his story clearer yet more mysterious. The Magic Flute is a familiar opera, yet one of the pleasures of this film is suspense. We wonder how famous scenes will be adapted to create Branagh's new vision.
- The film is set in WWI, yet it isn’t. During the overture, a battalion of blue fighter planes turns aerial pirouettes to music. There are two sides fighting and yet the main conflict is within the hearts of the protagonists. Despite this, elements of history are retained. For example, a Christmas day ceasefire, when opposing armies come out of their trenches to play soccer, recalls real incidents but the moment is reworked to drive the story.
- Such elements are not easily parsed and Branagh's symbolism invites ambiguity. A blue army opposes a red army but neither is named. The hero changes sides for love. The conflict is universal, yet based on personal vendetta; heroism is glorified, yet the flute symbolizes peace.
- The libretto and dialogue by Stephen Fry succeed on many levels. The earthy needs and desires of Papageno are respected even as they are gently mocked. The ‘nesting’ scene between the bird man and his fluttering wife is an ironic wink at suburban nest builders everywhere.
- Between recognition humour, irony and poignancy, this film tugged my head and heart. Symbols of the Masonic temple are represented on a massive scale by Zoroaster’s fortress/cathedral. The masons are a community of multiracial folk, healing and rebuilding. For me the most powerful symbol is the graveyard. Names in every language mark stones that repeat over and over the ages of the fallen, often at only eighteen years. Fortunately the ending is uplifting.
- The Magic Flute also features outstanding entrances. The serpent, traditionally killed by Queen of the Night's Handmaidens, is represented here by poison, snaking out of a gas canister. The Handmaidens, appearing in the stark white uniforms of battlefield nurses, fall in love with this beautiful young man and begin to quarrel over who should get him. How fitting when young men are dying in the thousands - a poignant twist on the fairy-tale original.
- The Queen of the Night gets the best entrance of all. She rides in astride a tank wearing a long leather coat. Popping and pinging the high notes while the camera focuses on her mouth, a convoy of tanks in the background appear to roar out of her throat. Evil indeed.
Labels: Music, TIFF Toronto International Film Festival