'Impromptu' takes new look at a famous affair

On movies

May 21, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

Director James Lapine takes an irreverent, amusing look at novelist George Sand and Chopin in ''Impromptu,'' a new film showing at the Charles.

This isn't the first time the celebrated affair between Sand and Chopin has been put on screen. She and he were the lovers in the 1945 ''A Song to Remember,'' in which Cornel Wilde was Chopin and Merle Oberon, Sand.

Chopin's ''Polonaise'' was heard throughout the 1945 film, leading to its popularization as ''Til the End of Time.'' Chopin, in fact, was made so hot by the movie that a Broadway show called ''Polonaise'' used the music as its theme.

In both films, Sand plays the role of the predatory male. She not only dresses as a male, she behaves as one. What she wants, she takes. She wants Chopin, so she goes after him, even though he has consumption and seems reluctant to become involved.

Judy Davis plays Sand in the new film, and she is one determined suitor, a woman who discards lovers as she might peanut shells. When she is through, she is through. In the end of ''Impromptu,'' she and Chopin, having finally caved in, ride off into the sunset, but you know, sure as a God made unfaithful men, that Sand will use this one then toss him aside, as she has all the others. And just as she did in the 1945 film.

Hugh Grant is Chopin, Mandy Patinkin is de Musset (one of Sand's former lovers), Julian Sands is Franz Liszt, Bernadette Peters is Liszt's common-law wife, Ralph Brown is Eugene Delacroix and Emma Thompson is the Duchess d'Antan, at whose estate all these people meet -- some to dally, others to engage in comic duels.

It's fun watching these people, and Lapine, who directed ''Into the Woods'' and ''Sunday in the Park With George'' on Broadway, stays with them just long enough. A little more time with these characters and they would surely tire. At 100 minutes, they are comically bearable.

''Polonaise'' is not heard in ''Impromptu,'' probably because Lapine didn't want his film compared that easily to the 1945 movie, which, incidentally, had Chopin plant candelabra on the piano before he would perform, an idea Liberace seized and used as his own.

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''Impromptu'' will remain at the Charles through May 29.

''Impromptu''

*** Novelist George Sand woos and wins composer Frederic Chopin.

CAST: Judy Davis, Hugh Grant, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Julian Sands, Emma Thompson

DIRECTOR: James Lapine

RATING: PG-13 (language)

) RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

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