Friday, September 28, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"In Search of Mozart" | Short takes

Music is key to this composition

3 stars "In Search of Mozart," a documentary by Phil Grabsky. 129 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. SIFF Cinema, through Thursday.

The end of Phil Grabsky's leisurely and often lovely exploration of the life of Mozart brings a haunting image: a small mountain of red-bound music scores, piled high as the camera slowly pans through the stack. The composer lived only into his mid-30s, but his legacy was immeasurable. "I have a theory that he was someone who lived his life faster than other people," one of the film's many interviewees comments.

Using readings of Mozart's letters, performances of his works, paintings and drawings of the composer and interviews with historians and musicians, Grabsky creates a surprisingly intimate portrait, filled with details from a life so long ago. A charming painting shows an absurdly small child at a keyboard, performing for a group of elegant adults. "I cannot write much, because my fingers ache from composing," a teenage Mozart wrote to his sister. "I am sending you a pair of socks by the mail coach," writes Mozart's usually stern father. (Unfortunately, Grabsky doesn't seem to have quite enough visual material; too often the film reverts to contemporary, unremarkable footage of the cities in which Mozart lived.)

The film effectively usurps the images left by Milos Forman's artful yet not entirely factually accurate "Amadeus" (1984): Mozart was not a pauper, and his burial in a mass grave was customary. But it's the music that casts this film's spell, beautifully performed by an impressive lineup of musicians. A hand flutters like a hummingbird over a keyboard; a violinist leans in as she plays, as if wrapping her body around the lovely tune. Made in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth, the film finds its drama in his work, described, in one musician's words, as "full of sighings, full of screams."

— Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times movie critic

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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