Talented sibling in losing rivalry
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Nov 04, 2011
Long before bands traveled from one stage to the next via tour buses, there were musicians doing the same with horse-drawn carriages. Leopold Mozart, one of history's most infamous stage dads, was among those facing the elements to herald his young son's prodigious abilities.
But that wunderkind wasn't the only talented family member, and "Mozart's Sister" gives Wolfgang's older sibling, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl), her due.
Rene Feret's fictionalized account of Nannerl's adolescence turns out to be a lush, if overly long, account of the family's relationship and the young girl's arguably wasted natural abilities. It's an ultimately tragic tale about a victim of the male-dominated system.
As the French film opens, the Mozarts find themselves stuck in the road, due to a broken axle. This leads to an auspicious pit stop at a nearby abbey, where the permanent residents turn out to be none other than Louis XV's daughters. Nannerl forms a close friendship with the youngest girl, Louise, before the family moves on to Versailles to perform.
In a Shakespearean twist, Nannerl ends up dressed as a boy and performing in front of Louise's brother, the recently widowed dauphin, heir to the throne. The pair form a kinship based on their shared love of music, which persists (even as it becomes romantically complicated) once Nannerl's true identity is revealed. It's a man's world, and yet the young royal requests that the girl send him original musical compositions.
While Leopold dedicates himself to Wolfgang's flourishing musical career by giving Nannerl's scamp of a younger brother extensive lessons in composition, he refuses to do the same for his daughter. Even as a self-taught composer, though, Nannerl excels.
But given her lot in life - both as a woman and one of low birth - her talent only goes so far.
"Mozart's Sister" feels like a rococo reverie. The film was shot inside Versailles, which borders on the best sensory overload when you factor in the gorgeous classical soundtrack. Stunning lead actress, Marie Feret (daughter of the director) has perfected the staid look of longing, leaving her ambivalent desires to please her father and satisfy her own musical cravings eternally evident. It all adds up to a satisfying period drama, right down to the characters 'politely restrained emotions.
Feret's script tends to include more than it needs to - both of the Mozart children become extremely ill at various points, which doesn't further the plot so much as extend the running time - yet the writer-director excels at revealing personalities through telling moments. When Louise asks Nannerl to take and dispose of a book filled with debaucherous accounts, the girl does as she's told, obediently throwing the offending material into a fireplace without sneaking a peek. And while Leopold is often portrayed as a bully, he shows up as a more nuanced character.
Just as the musically inclined family slowly made its way across Europe, "Mozart's Sister" is a meandering but transporting journey, which offers glimpses of a world as resplendent as it is stifling.
Contains sexual situations. In French with English subtitles.