Picks and Pans Review: Callas Forever

updated 11/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

DRAMA

Fanny Ardant, Jeremy Irons

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This what-if film, set during the last year of Maria Callas's life, offers a fond tribute to the opera diva by writer-director Franco Zeffirelli (Tea with Mussolini), who was her friend and colleague for many years. It's 1977 and Callas (Ardant), her spectacular voice a croaking memory, is a recluse in her Paris apartment. With much flattery and persuasion, her former manager (Irons) talks her into making a movie version of Carmen. She will act the title role, lip-synching to her own earlier recordings of the arias. (Zeffirelli tried in vain to sell the real Callas on a similar scheme.)

The film is a minor effort by Zeffirelli, but Ardant is marvelous, whether mooning around her luxe flat or throwing a fit of artistic pique. She convincingly conveys the conundrum that was Callas. And the music is glorious. Scenes of the Carmen that might have been, a minifilm within the film, dazzle with energy and eye-popping staging. (Not rated)

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