The music of this supreme melodist and harmonic innovator has been quoted in approximately 125 feature films across many genres. There is a fairly wide range of his compositions used, unlike many other composers for whom only a few of their more popular pieces were repeatedly employed in soundtracks. The waltzes, the ballades, the nocturnes, the sonatas, a couple of the polonaises, and the two piano concerti, all evoke the early to mid-19th century Romantic spirit but each piece is uniquely defined enough to suit a filmmaker's specific emotional intent.
In a touching early scene from the thriller The Net (1995), the protagonist Angela Bennet (Sandra Bullock), a computer programmer and debugger (who later has her identity taken away by forces trying to take over the government), visits her mother who is gradually losing her memory because of Alzheimer's syndrome. Her mother is attempting to play Chopin's Nocturne in B Major, Op. 32, No. 1 in starts and stops on a piano in the corner of a large living room where other residents of the rest home are watching television. Angela asks her mother if they can play the piece together because "you taught it to me." This puzzles the mother for a moment, and then she decides that her daughter, whom she does not recognize, must have been one of her students. The scene concludes with mother and daughter each playing one hand of the engagingly lovely piece.
One well-known Chopin composition surfaces in a very curious context in Luis Buñuel's Tristana (1970). Tristana can play the piano but gave it up when her mother died. She becomes the ward of a lecherous, hypocritical guardian, Don Lope, who takes sexual advantage of her. He preaches working at what gives pleasure and freedom in love but only when it suits himself -- his reactionary moralisms are in conflict with his socialist vision. Tristana falls for an artist, Horacio, and leaves with him. Meanwhile, Don Lupe inherits a fortune from his sister that keeps him from becoming impoverished. After two years, Horacio contacts Don Lope to tell him that Tristana has a leg tumor; though it's not a serious case, Tristana thinks she is dying and wants to spend her final days in Lupe's house because she still considers him a father figure. Up to this point, there have only been brief fragments of street music and absolutely no offscreen atmospheric orchestrations. After Tristana's leg is amputated, the viewer hears, from a distance and then in a close shot, Tristana playing Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. This piece seems to simultaneously express her frustration at her condition, and to signal that she now identifies with Lope's socialist spirit. She stops playing suddenly to talk to Horacio. She declares that she has decided to stay with Don Lope, wishes Horacio well, and launches into the music again. The years pass and fascinating psychological changes occur in all the characters. A quick, surreal series of flashbacks over a sustained electronic tone concludes this strange film.
Aspects of Chopin's life are presented in the 1952 Polish film Mlodosc Chopina (Young Chopin) from the Gustav Bach novel, and in Klaus Kirschner's Chopin: Bilder einer Trennung (Chopin: Progress of a Disintegration, 1993), a French/German co-production filmed in black-and-white in which characters reflect on Chopin's later years and his futile battle with tuberculosis. Although partly fictional, the spirit of Chopin's times, friends, and loves is probably best evoked in the charming Impromptu (1991). The film is primarily centered around the character of scandalous novelist George Sand, who became Chopin's lover and caretaker.