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Impromptu: a moment in the life of George Sand

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George Sand was a 19th century author who was known as Madame George Sand. She was born in 1804 and by age 16 rode horses in men’s clothing. She was married by the time she was 18 and after bearing two children, left her husband within 10 years. With the male pen name George Sand in place of her birth name Aurore she was published before she turned 29. By one account, she had no less than 7 openly known lovers during her life, which was beyond scandalous at the time-when divorce was still illegal.

Impromptu is just a small slice of Madame George Sand’s life, during which she fell in love with Chopin through his music. I love the cast of this movie: Judy Davis as George and Hugh Grant as Chopin. Emma Thompson brings the naïve but good hearted Claudette to life with great charm. Bernadette Peters perfectly plays the bitter friend who has fallen out of ‘good society’. It only increases her bitterness to witness her friend seemingly waltz through life without having to conform to societies expectations of women.

The movie begins as George is reminiscing about her childhood habit of running off into the woods alone. She kneels before a tree trunk that has long been her alter for leaving offerings, then pleas to be heard: she wants to understand the meaning of life and to find perfect love. She frees a bird in her name that flutters away then begins to free a lizard in her name, except the poor thing has died while in her pocket. She frustratingly exclaims “Balls!” then the scene cuts back to the grown woman at her writing desk. We don’t yet know how her quest has gone, but soon after we meet her ex-lover Alfred. Who describes her as a cold hearted cannibal: “She would drink the blood of her children from her lover’s skull and not feel so much as a stomach ache” We guess that no, she has not yet found perfect love!

Also quickly revealed is her aversion to social functions involving aristocrats along with her love of Chopin’s music. She arrives at just such a function at the behest of her publisher to find Chopin is playing in the salon; but she cannot enter while he’s playing. She stands inches from the door, listening and inquires whether or not the hostess prays. When she is told that yes she prays and no she never hears an answer, George gestures to the door and tells her “There is your answer.”

She soon finds out that some of her closest artist friends have been invited to guest at a Duchess’ property in the country for a fortnight. George of course has no inclination to join such an outing; until she realizes that Chopin has been invited and is planning to attend. She has heard him play but never seen his face, yet she is in love with the man who can make the piano ‘speak the language of God’ as she describes it. The Duchess D’Antan (Claudette) enters the film as she is running about in an excited frenzy searching for her stout husband whom she finds shooting at birds in a field. Madame George Sand has invited herself to the occasion and far from being insulted, the hostess is beside herself with glee.

The fortnight in the country is filled with amusing and sometimes disturbing antics from George Sand’s children along with the Duchess’ young son. Also, attempts to win the heart of Chopin by George as while her jealous ex-lovers make a tangled mess of things are depicted quite comically. When George’s good friend Marie D’agoult finds out that Claudette has invited Alfred as well, she laughs with delight and informs the hostess that it will be nothing less than judgment day for George and stingingly adds “Well, she should have to pay for her sins like any other fallen woman. She can’t avoid EVERYTHING by being a man!”

Marie is a bitter woman who divorced, like George, but through her experience she lost all chance to be a part of her children’s lives and her social status was lowered to outcast. From the moment we realize her true intentions towards her friend and Monsieur Chopin she takes every opportunity to drive a wedge between the two; refusing to give up even to the very end. Her lover is pianist Franz Liszt, a close friend of Chopin as well; you’ll pity the poor man almost instantly.

Upon Chopin’s first night at Claudette’s estate, George sneaks into his private chamber where he is playing passionately on a small piano and she lays beneath it to listen. When he pauses she jumps up and exclaims “Don’t stop! Monsieur Chopin you are in the middle of a miracle and I am not quite yet cured!” Chopin, being very proper, is deeply upset at the discovery of a woman in his private chamber with no chaperone. George is visibly disappointed that her first meeting with him goes so poorly. Still, she managed to inform him with a smile as she left that she was content: at last she had seen his face and was happy to find he wasn’t a man at all, but an angel.

Her most recent of ex-lovers continues to tutor her children, has both a very thick accent and hair with an annoying tendency to duel over his honor where George is concerned. His name is Mallefille (pronounced Mal-fie) and at one point he reminds George that she had promised to love him, to which she responds “I never promised I would succeed!” In fact, she admits to Chopin that her love affairs are always disastrous and she isn’t able to stay in love. In a letter to Chopin, designed to convince him that her feelings towards him were sincere, she once wrote (and later published in a book): I’m not full of virtues and noble qualities. I love, that is all. But I love strongly, exclusively and steadfastly.

For a period film it has all my favorite pieces: gorgeous horses under saddle and in harness, beautiful countryside, costumes with lots of velvet and lace, amazing mansions from centuries past and characters brought to life by wonderful acting. I highly recommend watching this one, especially if you love strong female characters that have the courage to be true to themselves, especially while going against the grain of society.

In my eyes, there are two things that prove true throughout the ages, that no matter what style of clothing we humans create, however outrageous hairstyles get, no matter what political class is ruling, there are two basic thing humanity will always search for: True Love and proof that God exists. Love causes tears to flow as easily now as they did in Madame George Sand’s time, as in Cleopatra’s time and I imagine well beyond the 21st century. Art and Religion have been linked throughout history as we try to express the nature of humanity and our bond with a higher power.


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