Aria (1987) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Ten short pieces directed by ten different directors, including Ken Russell, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, and Nicolas Roeg. Each short uses an aria as soundtrack/sound (Vivaldi, Bach, Wagner), and is an interpretation of the particular aria.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • This is an anthology film featuring 10 different segments told entirely in the song of opera.

    "Un ballo in maschera"

    A fictionalized account of a 1931 assassination attempt on King Zog of Albania (Theresa Russell) in Vienna, Austria during his visit to an opera house. It is notable for his shooting back at his three would-be assassins and surviving. Directed by Nicolas Roeg (14 minutes)

    "La vergine degli angeli" from La forza del destino

    (Filmed in black and white) Three London teenagers named Marie (Nicola Swain), Travis (Jackson Kyle), and Kate (Marianne McLaughlin) skip school and steal a car. They go for a joyride around North London until the police give chase. They wreck the car and flee on foot after setting it on fire and get away with no one the wiser. Directed by Charles Sturridge (5 minutes)


    Two cleaning women (Marion Peterson and Valérie Allain) try to attract the attention of oblivious bodybuilders at a local gym in Paris. But the bodybuilders are too focused on their workouts then pay attention to the two young women... even when they strip off all of their clothes and pose completely naked. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard (11 minutes)


    A hilarious bedroom farce set in San Luis Obispo's famous Madonna Inn, in which a Hollywood movie producer named Preston (Buck Henry) cheats on his wife Phoebe (Anita Morris) with a fashion model Gilda (Beverly D'Angelo), unaware that Phoebe, too, is there with a clandestine lover of her own named Jake (Gary Kasper). Despite never running into each other, Preston and Phoebe return home and watch a lovemaking tape of their adventure, only to discover that the motel valet switched tapes with them by accident and Preston and Phoebe's infidelity is exposed. (This is one of the few segments with actual dialogue.) Directed by Julien Temple (14 minutes)

    "Glück, das mir verblieb" from Die tote Stadt"

    A look at the seemingly-dead city of Bruges, Belgium. Scenic footage of the empty streets and cemeteries is inter-cut with a opera duet of two lovers, as a beautiful virgin named Mariette (Elizabeth Hurley) is stripped naked by her lover Paul (Peter Birch) and, after she expresses her affection for him, she loses her virginity to him. Directed by Bruce Beresford (5 minutes)

    "Les Boréades"

    A re-creation of opening night at Paris's Théâtre Le Ranelagh in 1734. The audience is filled with a raffish assortment of inmates from an insane asylum. Featuring Julie Hagerty, Geneviève Page, Sandrine Dumas, and Chris Campion as some of the inmates. Directed by Robert Altman (7 minutes)

    "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde

    Two young teenage lovers (Bridget Fonda and James Mathers) arrive in Las Vegas. After driving down Fremont Street, they check into a hotel room where they have very hot and passionate sex. Afterwords, while taking a bath, they both kill themselves in a suicide pact by slashing their wrists and die holding one another in the bathtub. Directed by Franc Roddam (7 minutes)

    "Nessun dorma" from Turandot

    After a car crash, a lovely young woman (Linzi Drew) has a near-death experience where she imagines her body is being adorned by jewels mirroring her injuries, in a tribal ritual parallel to the procedures of the surgical team treating her, until she wakes up in the operating room after resuscitation. Directed by Ken Russell (7 minutes)

    "Depuis le jour" from Louise

    A veteran opera singer (Amy Johnson) gives her final performance, inter-cut by 8mm home movies of an early love affair between her younger self (Tila Swinton) and a guy (Spencer Leigh). Directed by Derek Jarman (6 minutes)

    "Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci

    A has-been actor (John Hurt) remembers his happier days while arriving at an opera house, visiting the dressing room to put on his clown makeup, and performing the aria for his audience of one; a young woman (Sophie Ward) who sits in the only occupied box in the theater. (This story provides a vague framing narrative to link together the other segments.) Directed by Bill Bryden (4 minutes)

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