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The Loves of Emma Bardac

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When some genius finally concocts a live-action merger of classical music and video imagery as satisfying as Fantasia, the ”French Impressionist musical docudrama” The Loves of Emma Bardac may be cited as one of the works that paved the way to it.

Writer-producer-director Thomas Mowrey hangs a good deal of splendid music and gorgeous imagery on a rather precious conceit, in which he bounces pianist sisters Katia and Marielle Labeque from the present day to the late 18th century, while at the same time recounting the story of Bardac, a singer who was muse to French composers Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré.

Bardac‘s best moments come when Mowrey lets the images of the performing Labeques interact with some of the beautiful Impressionist paintings gathered for the program. It’s worst when a truly goose-bump-raising version of Debussy’s Prélude á l’après-midi d’un Faune is constantly interrupted by studied narration — an annoyance that could easily have been avoided (though not on the simultaneously released cassette version) by putting the narration on the disc’s separate audio track, giving the viewer the option of turning it off. Shot in superdetailed HDTV video, The Loves of Emma Bardac is only intermittently successful. C

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