The opening scenes of Suzanne Osten's new film, "The Mozart Brothers," set up a tantalizing situation. Walter, the director about to launch a new production of Mozart's "Don Giovanni," assembles his cast and proceeds to pin back their ears. "I don't like singing," he tells them. "And I hate opera." The only theater he respects is a theater that "understands silence," and he informs them that the opera will be staged on a single set -- a graveyard filled with damp earth. The cast members, struck dumb by these pronouncements, wear expressions ranging from shock to homicidal rage. One thing is agreed on, though: This weaselly little upstart has to be stopped.
Most of the movie -- which was taken from a screenplay by Osten, Etienne Glaser (who plays Walter) and Niklas Radstrom -- follows Walter's painstaking and masterful manipulations and seductions of his cast. As each opposition arises the genius director, by stroking, bullying or outlasting, defuses it, winning the company one by one over to his side. There is no compromise in the man: He always gets his way.
Wiry and bony-beaked, with fright-wiggish brown hair -- he resembles a sardonic Art Garfunkel -- Walter is a familiar character. He's just the type of audacious, flamboyant, revolutionary-thinking Wunderkind who might stage an all-leather "Macbeth" or "Faust Underwater." Walter is a terrific sendup of these guys who savage a text and pound it into a shape that fits their own obsessions. His disdain for convention, for audiences, for hidebound musicians is, in his own mind, wholly justified by his genius. And approved by an even higher power. In one scene, while Walter is backstage working with his miniatures, Mozart appears and plants a whopping soul kiss on him. With this mandate, what are the measly protestations of the small-minded?
"The Mozart Brothers" is an odd combination of elements, a blending of slapstick and musicology. Walter is cast as a Don Juan figure, and many of his actions toward the members of the company parallel those of Mozart's hero. For fans of the opera, this adds another level to the action, but because these are mere grace notes, and not a fully worked out subtext, it is not a particularly deep or satisfying one.
Unfortunately, the comic material isn't executed very skillfully either. Osten hasn't a clue how to stage her broadsides -- the jokes roll out of the end of her gun and thunk to the ground. The further the movie progresses, the more tedious it becomes. Whenever we are given samples from the opera -- which are, by the way, beautifully sung -- we resent that there's not more of the music itself.
Ultimately, the movie becomes nearly as frustrating as the type of theater it lampoons. And that's the nearest thing to death for a satire there is.
The Mozart Brothers, at the Key, is unrated but contains only mildly suggestive material.