Written, directed and produced by Rene Feret, MOZARTâS SISTER is a re-imagined account of the early life of Maria Anna âNannerlâ Mozart (played by Marie Feret, the directorâs daughter), five years older than Wolfgang (David Moreau) and a musical prodigy in her own right. Originally the featured performer, Nannerl has given way to Wolfgang as the main attraction, as their strict but loving father Leopold (Marc Barbe) tours his talented offspring in front of the royal courts of pre-French revolution Europe. Approaching marriageable age and now forbidden to play the violin or compose, Nannerl chafes at the limitations imposed on her gender. But a friendship with the son and daughter of Louis XV offers her ways to challenge the established sexual and social order.
Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart, which translates rather clunkily into English as Mozart's Sister, is a new film which seeks to correct the historical injustice done to Maria Anna "Nannerl" Mozart, Wolfgang's older sister and a musical prodigy in her own right whose gifts were quickly eclipsed by those of her younger brother.
Led by father Leopold (Marc Barbe), the Mozarts' live like gypsies, traveling across the continent, Nannerl (Marie Feret) and Wolfgang (David Moreau) performing with their father for wealthy patrons and the crowned heads of Europe. During this period, Leopold stops teaching Nannerl composition and the technique aspects of musical theory, focusing all his efforts on little Wolfie. When Nannerl confronts her father about his preference, he tells her point blank that musical theory is hard enough for anyone, let alone a woman. Nannerl is not to play the violin--her instrument of choice--because it's unbecoming of a young woman; she is to support her brother on piano, sing and perform the younger boy's original pieces.
Because so little of Nannerl Mozart's life during this period, from fourteen to sixteen years of age, is known, writer/director/producer Rene Feret takes it upon himself to invent some colorful and chronologically impossible scenarios. The film shifts its focus from the Mozart family's intimate travelogue, with its attendant sibling rivalry and father/daughter tensions, to Nannerl's coming of age. She strikes up a friendship with Louise de France, daughter of King Louis XV and brother of the Dauphin, with whom she begins an earnest romance.
Louise de France, nicknamed Chiffre, is another pitiable casualty of 18th century gender politics. Banished by her father to an abbey, never to see her family again, Louise is forced--by society, by convention--to abandon her ambitions to God and the King. In a heartbreaking scene, Louise and Nannerl bemoan the twist of fate that made them girls--had they been born boys, Louise would have been the future king of France and Nannerl would have been the most famous composer in history.
But the speculative historical fiction of Mozart's Sister only carries so much dramatic heft--at a certain point, the viewer can do little but sigh despairingly at the institutionalized injustices of being a woman. Yes, it is very sad. In fact, everyone's life is rather sad. The Dauphin died at thirty-six; Mozart at thirty-five. Nannerl outlived them all, having given up on her dream of composing and performing music to dedicate her entire life to preserving her brother's works and taking care of her father in his old age. Mozart's Sister has an intriguing premise but its execution suffers from the inevitable inertness of a history that has already been written.
None of Nannerl Mozart's musical compositions survive today. To approximate what a female Mozart might have sounded like, Rene Feret hired French composer Marie-Jeanne Serero. Ms. Serero's compositions utilize Nannerl's preferred instruments, the violin and the harpsichord, in period-appropriate baroque style. Many of Nannerl's pieces, especially choral orchestrations that capitalize on the older Mozart's lovely singing voice, are extremely beautiful.
As enchanting as the classical score is, the music is doubtful to appeal to any but the baroque connoisseur and Mozart aficionado. For those of us who don't know our adagios from our scherzos, let alone can recognize a fortepiano from a harpsichord, much of Nannerl's fictional Mozart is indecipherable from the snippets of her brother's more famous compositions scattered throughout the piece. Like the film itself, Ms. Serero's work is more creative estimation than historical recreation. However, it works well enough from a dramatic standpoint to satisfy even the tone-deaf listener.
Mozart's Sister effortlessly recreates the look and feel of 18th century Europe, from the candle and fire-lit interiors of wood-paneled appartements to the mud-sloshed roads the Mozarts' travel by horse carriage. Shot on location at the palace of Versailles, the scenes of royal extravagance achieve a casual, understated elegance (if Versailles can ever look casual). There, the Dauphin's grief over the death of his wife and his increasingly conflicted views on his father's promiscuity and his own feelings for Nannerl converge with darkly erotic tension. One of the film's most unusual and gripping scenes takes place in the Dauphin's shadowy chambre, which, Feret reminds us, cannot be entered without passing the many palace attendants who observe this behavior but say nothing.
Mozart's Sister often strikes the right tone of uneasiness between the Mozarts, wholly dependent on the rich and royal to patronize their childrens' musical gifts, and the unstable Dauphin that yearns to share in Nannerl's talents but is muzzled by convention and pretense. The film's production design reflects the feeling of all its characters being trapped and tamped down: from Louise de France jailed behind bars at the abbey, clothed in constricting nun's habit, or Nannerl having to hide her musical compositions from her father, writing only in the middle of the night by candlelight. Even the men are restricted: Leopold Mozart confined to cramped carriages and tiny boarding houses as he travels with his family around Europe, and the Dauphin whose skittish behavior betrays a fear of being struck down by his father or the Church at any moment.
Drama, Period Piece, Biography
August 19, 2011