"THE MOZART BROTHERS," Suzanne Osten's adult comedy about Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni," doesn't beg you to guffaw the way Mel Brooks might. It's designed to stimulate rather than insult the intelligence. But "Brothers" gets caught with its hands in the Meaningful jar.
Walter the enfant terrible stage director decides to radicalize a production of "Don Giovanni" into a circusy tract on eroticism, life and death. He hates any opera and theater "that doesn't utilize silence," he tells the appalled ensemble. And instead of Don Giovanni killing Donna Anna's father, the situation will be reversed. There's more. The musicians will perform onstage, and the actors will shave their heads, wear bizarre clothing and sing from a center-stage pool of mud. In rehearsal, he makes everyone perform strange erotic exercises. All this, Walter says, is what Mozart would have wanted.
The trouble is, Osten clearly feels the same way about her film. When Mozart's ghost appears to give Walter the green light from beyond, it seems Osten is patting her own, thoughtful head as well. There is also a subplot in which a young videographer, profiling Walter at work, constantly engages him in jousty artspeak. Walter's platitudinous ramblings about creation sound suspiciously like mouthpiece statements.
Another statement rears up when Walter tells a group of child actors they must play the Don Juan's unwanted children: Sitting at this rehearsal just happens to be a child of Walter's, whose mother has come to ask the director for money. A switchboard operator constantly pages Walter for female callers; the director also has apparently tangoed with one or two cast members.
Intent on the blossoming of her comedy, Osten (and cowriters Etienne Glaser and Niklas Radstrom) forget to add flesh. The film is high on comic situation -- as Walter battles antagonistic performers and union regulations -- but low on human warmth and depth. Etienne Glaser's Walter is the most interesting (and he is a dead ringer for French screen comic Pierre Richard), but he commands only lukewarm empathy.
The title implies Marx Brothers tomfoolery. But, apart from the superficial resemblance to "A Night at the Opera" and a piano-plunking rehearsal conductor with curly hair and a hat, there is absolute zippo in that regard. And actually, just about any Marx Brothers movie on videotape would be a safer bet.
THE MOZART BROTHERS (Unrated) -- In Swedish with subtitles at the Key.