Stiffly executed, though informative almost by default, “Once Upon a Time Johann Sebastian Bach” takes a Classics Illustrated approach to the life of the composing great. Given scripter-helmer Jean-Louis Guillermou’s leaden touch, Christian Vadim’s title perf is at least dignified and appealing, and the narration (by veteran French actor Jean Rochefort) adds a touch of class. But despite appropriate wigs, costumes, candlelit settings and sublime music, pic is hampered by astonishingly didactic dialogue and never exceeds the dramatic level of a high school play. Oddball tube dates and discount video bins loom in Europe.
Bach’s was a life of hard work and hard knocks. Orphaned at 10, studious and precocious but only belatedly encouraged, the adult Bach found himself at perpetual odds with the municipal and religious authorities who he depended on as a church organist. After the tragic death of his first wife, he wed a member of the Leipzig choir, Anna Magdalena (Elena Lenine), a fervent supporter of his prolific composing. Alas, pic, unlike Bach’s music, is devoid of verve and inspiration, to a jaw-dropping degree.