Over the weekend I watched movie Impromptu, about George Sand and Chopin at the beginning of their celebrated 10-year relationship. A friend had been shoving me toward it for years, but I hadn’t felt particularly compelled to try it: I’ve never read any Sand, and I’m not that enamoured of Chopin’s music (piano music often leaves me cold, and I’m not sure why). However, recent discussions my friend and I have had – about being scary, being judged, genre and the idea of branding oneself – led me to think that ok, maybe it was time to watch this movie.

It was wonderful, and exactly what I needed to watch right now.

George Sand, in addition to taking a masculine pseudonym, used to dress in men’s clothing. It was utterly fascinating to see the people around her react with everything from amusement to envy to horror. Chopin, a timid, nervous sort, is utterly terrified of her at first. She falls in love with his music and decides she must also be in love with the man who created the music. She pursues him relentlessly (on the bad advice of an envious friend), which scares and intrigues him (but mostly scares). Only when she puts on a dress and uses her aristocratic title is he able to listen to her — and just barely, at that. She gives up and leaves Paris, but that brief moment of listening has planted a seed in his mind. It’s his turn to pursue her, which he does by looking for her books. They finally meet again, having connected with each other’s art, and it’s STILL difficult. She still scares him; he still shies away from her. There’s some painful fits and starts and negotiation that has to happen before they can meet in the middle, Sand finding a way to moderate her exuberance*, Chopin taking some halting steps toward boldness.

* She’s back in trousers by the end, never fear! And that’s the beauty of it: they’re not giving themselves up, but learning empathy and how to take each other into account.

It’s rare for me to be moved by movie romance (or book romance, alas), but I found this really lovely. And I’m leaving out all the funny parts! Emma Thompson is hilarious as a young noblewoman who fills her house with artists in hopes that some culture will rub off on her, Mandy Patinkin is present in full beardy glory, and then there’s Sand’s children, leading a scion of nobility astray. It was good fun all the way through.

4 thoughts on “Impromptu

  1. I saw this recently too! I thought Judy Davis was great as George, and I was pleasantly surprised that the movie was more about her than about Chopin. I think the duel scene was my favorite part… though the revenge they got on her deceitful friend was pretty nice, too. I wish there were more great roles like this for her.

    • She was wonderful indeed! And I think a hopeful figure to those of us who are a little bit afraid of our own scariness (if that makes any sense). I was more astonished by Hugh Grant, however, who I’ve never found remotely compelling as a (shy, nervous, bumbling) romantic lead. Here he somehow manages to be shy without being insipid. He’s got an inner dignity we don’t see elsewhere.

    • I never even heard of it when it came out, which is weird because it’s just the sort of costume drama I used to gravitate towards. But then, I don’t think I would have understood it the same way when I was younger, so maybe it’s just as well.

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