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The Boston Globe


Movie Review

Gustav Mahler meets Sigmund Freud in ‘Mahler on the Couch’

The question really isn’t why the conductor-composer Gustav Mahler had a therapy session with the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, in the summer of 1910 but what took him so bloody long. Mahler’s celebrated musical output — turbulent song cycles and gargantuan symphonies — represents the ne plus ultra of Late Romanticism, and his works swirl with a neurosis as insistent as it is overpowering. By all accounts, the man was a handful himself: impassioned, ambitious, insecure, death-obsessed. Nor was he happy that his much younger wife, Alma, had recently started groping the up-and-coming architect Walter Gropius.

No one actually knows what Mahler and Freud talked about in their meeting, and since historical uncertainty is a boon to moviemakers (see: “Amadeus” and “Immortal Beloved”), we have “Mahler on the Couch,” a film written and directed by the father-son team of Percy and Felix Adlon. (Percy Adlon gave us “Sugar­baby” and “Baghdad Café” back in the 1980s.) It’s an over-stylized and overwrought affair, and intentionally so — any other approach probably wouldn’t play fair to the music or these tempestuous lives. But a little of it goes a long way, and fast.

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