JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Mozart's Sister (Director/Writer: René Féret) - January 14, 2011

Mozart's Sister

Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart

3 3
120 min.

Reviewed at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Passions go up in smoke

Probably—by so many other accounts, and where there’s smoke there’s fire—the old complaint can readily be adapted to “Dad always liked you best” when delving into Nannerl Mozart’s understanding of her younger brother, Wolfgang.

With another lost and neglected composer occupying the same screen less than a day earlier (with a much poorer turnout, once more demonstrating the relative star power of Mozart compared to Mathieu—cross-reference below), comparing storytelling techniques was inevitable.

Both films have French origins and settings: last evening’s, Québec (Montréal); today’s France (Paris).

The primary difference stems from the twin heads of sex and passion (but only marginally in the romantic sense).

Of course, music has to figure prominently. Writer/director (and briefly actor as a professor of music) René Féret solved the overpowering challenge of focussing on Nannerl’s hope to become a composer in a man’s world by virtually shutting out Wolfgang’s incredible output. In its stead, composer Marie-Jean Serreo took on the assignment of crafting instrumental compositions that might well have flowed from “Nanna’s” pen had they survived a key moment in the narrative. The result, notably the pivotal solo for violin and orchestra (commissioned by no less than recent widower, the Dauphin of France—Clovis Foiun—who fell hopelessly in love with his lesser at his/her first high C) seems closer to Vivaldi in style and spirit than the emerging classical era of perfectly balanced art.

What does work on all levels is the plot’s need for Nannerl to approach the grieving heir to the throne disguised as a man (custom had it that no unknown women could make contact with the bereaved until the mourning ended). These encounters based on mistaken identity and cross-dressing are happily at one with Mozart’s comic operas and lift the production’s otherwise slow, at times laboured adagio into the joyful realm of allegro ma non troppo. Sadly, the last meeting seems as trite as Antonio Salieri’s lightweight catalogue.

After bidding a sad farewell to Versailles and the possibility of someone who admires her compositions and is between King-chosen wives …, Nannerl pleads to her long-suffering, content-in-her-place mother (Delphine Chuillot) to intervene with her chauvinistic, controlling father (Marc Barbé’s resemblance to F. Murray Abraham when both are wigged is curious indeed) and let her return to Paris—after all, she’s just come of age and can make her own way.

Before you can say “the next stage leaves tomorrow night,” the eldest child abandons her family in London and heads back to Paris, hoping to feed her most ardent desires: music and men.

Unfortunately, Nannerl’s musical talent can’t overcome the affairs of court: she doesn’t have enough “fire in belly“ to dig into her artistic temperament and get her way in the concert hall or bed chamber.

In tandem with these efforts to become more than cook and cleaner is one of Louis XV’s acknowledged children. Met by chance in an Abbey on the first trip to Paris, Louise de France (Lisa Féret completing the familial casting) shifts from rebel with a cause (in the personage of Hugues le Tourneur—Arthur Tos) to repentant sinner—having just managed to dodge the bullet of incest—the girls become best friends, “forever.”

René Féret has done his able best to bring layers of double-standard morality and sexism into the mix of exceptional music that must be heard. Yet when the double bar finally brings the movement to a halt, there’s no feeling of loss, just a cinematic reminder that art doesn’t give you a hug. JWR

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Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Music Box Films Palm Springs International Film Festival
Cross-reference(s): Please click on the image link(s) below
for related work: