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'Callas': For Fans Only

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page WE42

A fair-to-middling movie designed for opera fans in general and Maria Callas buffs in particular, this is co-writer-director Franco Zeffirelli's tribute to the late diva. It's a re-imagined account of the last months in her life.

Jeremy Irons plays Larry Kelly, the singer's estranged manager who pays Callas (Fanny Ardant) a visit in 1977 to coax her out of self-imposed seclusion. She's mourning the loss of former husband Aristotle Onassis to Jackie Kennedy and the deterioration of her once legendary voice. Little by little, Kelly persuades her to agree to act and lip-sync her way through a movie production of "Carmen." The idea is, she'll act and the recording of her long-ago but great singing performance of the same opera will be used for the soundtrack. After finishing the film, an ebullient Callas decides to perform a film version of "Tosca" using her natural voice. But will her financial backers agree? It's a small-scale premise for a movie and, given its wooden, dubbed dialogue (a supreme irony), it's an experience purely for Callas fans.

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Joan Plowright has a spirited turn as a journalist and Callas's best friend. But she's confined to adoring descriptions of the singer, and her one-purpose agenda becomes tedious. Ardant has some nice moments as the tormented performer, but ultimately, she's hampered by a rather dull script. Irons is strangely terrific; he throws himself into his ponytailed performance with fascinating abandon. But enthusiasm can only do so much.

CALLAS FOREVER (Unrated, 108 minutes) --Contains obscenity and sexual innuendo. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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