European Film Week films:
‘The Conductor’ Review: A Wonderful Biopic About a Woman Who Deserves a Bigger Spotlight
Art and Experience: Have you ever heard of Antonia Brico? Don’t be ashamed if the answer to that question is “no”. Many people, even those with degrees in musical fields, have no idea who she is. The short answer is that Brico is one of the most exceptional modern conductors of our time. She’s the first American to graduate from the Berlin State Academy of Music, and the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic. The Conductor is her story.
As is the case with any sort of biopic, Antonia Brico’s (Christanne de Bruijn) story is spiced up a little here and there. With that in mind, it’s never done in a way that does Brico or her counterparts any disservice. The Conductor follows her journey to become a female conductor in an age where such a thing isn’t really “allowed”.
From her humble roots as an adopted immigrant, all the way to her journey to Berlin, Antonia is constantly told she can’t do it. She’s reminded that “women can’t lead”, or that “women go on the bottom where they belong”. When she finally gets to sit down with a teacher she admires he gives her one solitary piece of advice: get married, have children. Time and time again she’s told to remember her place. And, time and time again, she reminds everyone around her that her place is in front of an orchestra.
Brico’s story in The Conductor isn’t without allies. While on her journey, she meets Robin Jones (Scott Turner Schofield), a darling friend who will help her throughout her life, and the likes of the infamous Karl Much (Richard Sammel) who relentlessly guides her along the beginning of her career. She also meets some complicated friends like Frank Thomsen (Benjamin Wainwright), but it’s best to let their story play out on screen and not in this review.
You kind of go into films like The Conductor and expect them to be drab, but I’m here to happily report that Maria Peters’ film is far from it. You believe in Brico’s story, not just because it’s the job of the film to make you, but because of the fiery portrayal by de Brujin. The story moves from cold to warm and soft to sharp with deft precision, and it makes you fall in love with the likes of Brico and her friends almost effortlessly.
Nestled within the film is an unexpected trans storyline that is handled with grace and without pomp and circumstance. The movie is always very clearly about Brico, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say this arc steals the film, but it is an incredibly welcome addition in a story that discusses the ridiculous lines placed between men and woman and what one or the other might be capable of.
Brico’s story is told beautifully not just through the depiction by de Brujin, or the screenplay written around the trailblazer’s life. It’s also stunningly shot with a score that will make you fall in love with the music just as deeply as the conductor herself has. The Conductor will fill your heart with love and hope while giving you something gorgeous to look at and listen to. It’s fierce, lovely, and complicated from start to finish, just like woman it portrays.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10