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'Bride' Drifts in the Wind

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2001


    'Bride of the Wind' Sarah Wynter and Jonathan Pryce in "Bride of the Wind." (Paramount Classics)
"Bride of the Wind" introduces us to an ensemble of famous artists in turn of the century Vienna, including composer Gustav Mahler (Jonathan Pryce), painters Gustav Klimt (August Schmoelzer) and Oskar Kokoschka (Vincent Perez), architect Walter Gropius (Simon Verhoeven) and novelist Franz Werfel (Gregor Seberg).

Their purpose in this movie is to shed light on the central character, Alma Mahler (Sarah Wynter), who had relationships with all of them. Alma was an artist in the making. But her relationships, particularly with Mahler, forced her into a secondary, supportive position.

In the movie, at least, the composer demands that she surrender her artistic impulses for their relationship. Meanwhile, he, of course, is free to compose to his heart's content. Naturally, Alma starts to seek relief in other liaisons, looking for the man who will set her free.

A fascinating premise. And yet, the movie, directed by Bruce Beresford, never quite blooms. Even though the performers do their utmost to live in the skin of their characters, they're too suffocated to be believable.

You're always aware that the performers are parading around in quotation marks, acting as "Mahler," "Werfel" and so on. It's only one level away from being an unintentional Monty Python sketch, in which Famous Characters are made into buffoons who exchange comically absurd remarks.

Also, there's something constricted and overly earnest about the storyline, which attempts to get in a little bit of everything, which is to say, a lot of nothing. The movie becomes a sort of period-costumed highlights reel of Alma Mahler's life, with those aforementioned artists appearing, disappearing, reappearing, like so many guests of Alma's heart.

The movie introduces us to Alma's emotional situation but doesn't explore it deeply enough. The story rushes by her anguish, noting the affairs, the disappointments, the first World War and a tragedy or two.

The movie also notes that she picked up a book of that fascinating local boy, Sigmund Freud. But it never offers character epiphanies. She was strong, she was spunky and sensuous, she had many artistic lovers (and husbands) and she moved on. That's about all I can tell you about Alma Mahler-Werfel, who married Mahler, Gropius and Werfel in her lifetime. I can tell you the what but not the why. And I can also tell you that newcomer Wynter gives her role far more dimension than scriptwriter Marilyn Levy even considered. If the movie isn't much of a breeze, I'm sure the winds of fortune will carry Wynter much further than "Bride of the Wind" ever could.

"Bride of the Wind" (R, 99 minutes) – Contains sexual scenes, nudity. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Shirlington 7.


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