TOUS LES MATINS DU MONDE (ALL THE MORNINGS OF THE WORLD) (France, 1991) *** 3/4. Directed by Alain Corneau. Screenplay by Pascal Guignard and Corneau, from Guignard's novel. Music arranger and performer, Jordi Savall. Cinematography, Yves Angelo. Sets, Bernard Vezat. Costumes, Corrine Jorry. Editing, Marie-Joseph Yoyotte. Cast: Jean-Pierre Marielle, Gerard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, Guillaume Depardieu, et al. An October Films release. In French with subtitles. 113 min. Rated PG.
C'est magnifique! The musical sounds are magnificent. The lighting and photography are magnificent. The editing and just about everything else is magnificent.
Gerard Depardieu must be Lon Chaney's successor as The Man of a Thousand Faces. Grotesquely puffy, rouged, bewigged, as the musician-courtier, composer and viol virtuoso Marin Marais (1656-1728), he opens the film. In a fit of dark despair and humbling himself, the aging Marais tells his students that he is nothing compared to his teacher. His voice-over starts the flashbacks about Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, a musical genius about whom little is known, not even his first name.
Sainte-Colombe did exist. He was a composer-performer who did marvels for the viol (the viola de gamba that became the cello), added a seventh string to it, found new fingerings, and had Marais as his most direct disciple.
The story begins with the death of Sainte-Colombe's young wife in the 1660s. The disconsolate musician (Jean-Pierre Marielle) becomes a recluse in his large country house, builds a cabin --a wooden shack -- in his garden to practice his instruments endlessly. He teaches his two daughters the rudiments of literacy and the techniques and secrets of great viol playing.
Solo or together they make stunning music. Years later, father and grown-up children give a rare salon trio performance. The court's foppish first violist acknowledges Sainte-Colombe's superiority, and soon after offers him to play for His Majesty Louis XIV, the Sun King in whose reign France was the cultural and artistic center of the world.
The vile-tempered Sainte-Colombe was a purist's purist and a Jansenist to boot -- these were breakaway Catholics who, among other matters, disapproved of the Jesuits' worldliness and ostentation. He kicks out the envoy. Playing the Palace is not for him. He resumes his rustic, eremitic life, with a vengeance. Having attained musical perfection he will not share it.
Marin Marais, 17, (Guillaume Depardieu, Gerard's only son) asks the Master to teach him. In vain, until the two girls come to the rescue. But in this un-Hollywoodian tale the teacher keeps reminding the young man that he may have virtuosity but lacks soul. "You're not a musician, " something that the uncompromising Sainte-Colombe seems to equate with an ineffable state of grace.
French movie narrations are the best in the world. Gerard Depardieu relates the past with perfect voice and tone, literary but beautifully simple, un-pedantic terms, and fascinating technical music talk.
"Tous les Matins" is a glorious musical story. It is also a moving story of marital love. Sainte-Colombe's adoration of his wife is recompensed by a series of her apparitions. " It seemed to him that his rage was leaving him. " He mellows perceptibly. We even discover that the Maestro did have one friend, painter Baugin, also a purist and a real-life person about whom little is known.
The film drips with Frenchness, from small details to the face of senior daughter Madeleine. Curiously, Anne Brochet, Roxanne in "Cyrano de Bergerac, " was (without realizing it), in love with Cyrano - Gerard Depardieu. Here she loves Depardieu Junior.
There is an affair that turns sad when young Marais yields to the temptations of fame and fortune. Much later, he realizes that his ties to the Sainte-Colombe family were more powerful than he had thought.
The music, string and vocal, is a feast, with compositions by Sainte-Colombe, Marais, Lully, Couperin, and arrangements and performances by contemporary, Barcelona-born master of the bass viol, Jordi Savall. The faking of viol-playing by the actors is entirely convincing.
The look of the film is a feast for the eyes. The interiors remind you (but not pointedly) of paintings by Georges de La Tour, Dutch masters and others. The secret is the exquisite lighting, one of the most beautiful and precise I can remember. It reproduces perfectly the period's single or weak light, as opposed to artificial movie-lighting and lightening of shadows or duskiness.
The acting by Gerard Depardieu and Anne Brochet is impeccable. Jean-Pierre Marielle who generally has comic or cynical roles, cast again type here gives an unforgettably taciturn performance. Depardieu Jr. makes a good debut.
French director Bertrand Tavernier made of " 'Round Midnight, " (1986), with the help of Dexter Gordon and Herbie Hancock, the best and most loving film ever about jazz musicians. Now Alain Corneau's ninth film in 18 years does the same for baroque music. Nominated for 11 Cesars (the French Oscars), it won 7, including Best Film, Director, Suporting Actress and Music, and other awards, including the Louis Delluc Prize for Best French Film.