Il Boemo (2022)

June 27th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Petr Vaclav. Czech Republic/Italy/Slovakia. 2022. 140 mins | Cast: Vojtěch Dyk, Barbara Ronchi, Elena Radonicich, Lana Vlady

Baroque music is at the core of this sweepingly romantic classically styled costume drama that reimagines the life and loves of a little known Czech composer who even tutored Mozart in 18th century Italy. 

Il Boemo, the Czech entry for the Academy Awards, makes fabulous use of the magical allure of its sumptuous Italian settings to tell a tale of doomed love affairs and the determination to overcome disappointment and succeed in the highly competitive arena of classical music. But behind this gilded cage lurks a squalid world of decadence and debauchery and Czech writer director Petr Vaclav reveals both sides of the palcoscenico in a drama smouldering with illicit sexual intrigue but bolstered by a bold story and prodigious musical interludes.     

The film opens in 1781 as Josef Myslivecek (b,1737) is on his death bed, poverty stricken and ravaged by syphilis, his deformity hidden by a Venetian mask. Years earlier, in 1765, he has arrived in Venice from a native Prague to seek his fortune as a musician and composer. But romance soon intervenes as Josef makes his way amongst the ‘beau monde’ and the urbane musician finds himself drawn into a love triangle with his young pupil, a well-born cellist who loses her virginity to him with disastrous consequences, and an aristocratic woman (Radonicich) whose libidinous charms capture Josef’s imagination as his reputation blossoms in all directions, and not just musically.

An exciting opportunity then takes Josef to Naples where his operas, written but hitherto unperformed, get a welcome airing. Here, as opera maestro, he enjoys a brief affair with real life diva Caterina Gabrielli (Barbara Ronchi) who agrees to sing in his debut opera but then loses her cool in a tense first night showdown in front of the fish-obsessed King of Naples (Ciccariello) who has a few unexpected habits up his sleeve. Invitations to lead illustrious orchestras soon flow including one sojourn that sees him fall for a married pianist in an affair that will prove his undoing.

Moving peripatetically around Europe, Josef finds himself back in Prague in 1768 meeting the child prodigy Mozart and instructing the precocious pianist in the rudiments of music with some new compositions which the boy picks up and embellishes like a pro in the film’s most amusing scene.

Tall, elegant and extremely graceful, Czech actor Vojtěch Dyko makes for a convincing maestro and he gives a sympathetic performance in the title role, although his pop star credentials often feel larger than life in the context of the film’s theme of struggling artist desperate for success. The divas are refreshingly idiosyncratic, and it works to the film’s advantage that Vaclav has cast delicately beguiling actors voiced by real opera singers including the famous Simona Saturova (La Gabrielli). 

Sadly, Josef falls victim to his carnal desires that often take precedence to his musical career, and this lack of perseverance and single-minded commitment is ultimately the key to his lack of endurance. Il Boemo is visually sumptuous glowing in candlelit interiors and lush landscapes, Vaclav does not stint on the music side of things with some rousing operatic episodes courtesy of contemporary Czech conductor and harpsichordist Vaclav Luks who has revived interest in his fellow countryman. This makes Il Boemo all the more enjoyable adding ballast and authenticity to the tragic story of a talented composer who somehow fell by the wayside in the chronicles of musical history. MT






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