Maria by Callas (2017) - Movie Review
Toronto Film Review: ‘Maria by Callas’
Tom Volf's documentary about the turbulent life and art of opera legend Maria Callas allows the singer herself to straighten out the record.
Trailer Movie Maria by Callas (2017) - Movie Review
Director: Tom Volf With Maria Callas, Joyce DiDonato. Release Date: Nov 2, 2018
1 hour 53 minutes
Constructed in the style of Asif Kapadia’s “Senna” and “Amy” or last year’s Cecil Beaton documentary, “Love, Cecil,” “Maria by Callas” sacrifices talking heads, a narrator and other standard contextual elements in favor of Callas speaking (and singing) for herself. What the film loses in dimensionality it gains in intimacy and focus, because only one voice is deemed necessary for us to hear. That voice soars through several full performances included in the documentary, such as “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s “Norma” and “Love Is a Rebellious Bird” from Bizet’s “Carmen,” and it aches in writings and recollections from the low points in her career, when she was beset by scandal.
There are times in the doc in which destiny deals a cruel hand and when fame has left her feeling trapped in a gilded cage. Among her controversies was the notorious walkout in Rome, when Callas abruptly canceled a performance of “Norma” after one act, leaving various luminaries, including the president of Italy, in a state of shock. It was hugely damaging to her reputation at the time, but she had warned the Rome Opera House she was suffering from bronchitis, and the venue had chosen not to have a standby ready. She won a lawsuit in court 13 years later over the incident, but she didn’t have control of the story, which proves to be a running theme in later scandals, such as her termination from the Met or her tortured relationship with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. The truth is inevitably more complicated — and, in Volf’s telling, more generous to Callas.
There are whole sections of Callas’ life that don’t get much attention, like her battles with an eating disorder, and other sections that perhaps get too much attention, like her happy working relationship with Pier Paolo Pasolini on “Medea.” Volf gives over ample screen time to Callas’ musical performances, too, but he doesn’t always have the images to support them, which can make the film seem like a friend showing off his record collection. Still, these are minor hiccups in the full-throated defense of a tarnished icon, a complex woman who never got what she deserved. Her life had an operatic quality that might seem fitting, but it wasn’t always fair.
For the first time, 40 years after her death, the most famous opera singer ever tells her own stor y – in her own words. Featuring previously unknown footage, unseen photographs, personal Super 8 films, private live recordings, intimate letters and rare behind-the scenes archival footage for the first time in colour .
Featuring images and footage of Callas, Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, Alain Delon, Yves Saint-Laurent, J.F. Kennedy, Luchino Visconti, Winston Churchill, Grace Kelly and Liz Taylor, among others.
Production: Elephant Doc, Petit Dragon, Unbeldi Production
French distribution: Haut & Court
Toronto Film Review: 'Maria by Callas'
Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 8, 2018. Running time: 113 MIN.
PRODUCTION: A Sony Pictures Classics release of Petite Dragon, Eléphant Doc, Unbeldi production. Producers: Emma Lepers, Gaël Leiblang, Tom Volf, Emmanuel Chain, Thierry Bizot.
CREW: Director, writer: Tom Volf. Editor: Janice Jones.
WITH: Maria Callas, Joyce DiDonato.