Mozart's Sister [Blu-ray]
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Written, directed and produced by RenA FAret, MOZARTaS SISTER is a re-imagined account of the early life of Maria Anna aNannerla Mozart (played by Marie FAret, the directoras 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.
The image that springs to mind is of the young Mozart touring the royal courts of Europe and being feted by crowned heads. He was a prodigy, a celebrity, a star. The reality was not so splendid, and even less so for his sister, Nannerl, who was older by 4½ years and also highly gifted. The family Mozart, headed by the ambitious impresario Leopold and cared for by his wife, traveled the frozen roads of the continent in carriages that jounced and rattled through long nights of broken sleep. Some royalty were happy to keep the Mozarts waiting impatiently for small payments. There was competition from other traveling prodigies none remotely as gifted as Mozart, but how much did some audiences know about music? Toilet facilities were found in the shrubbery along the roads. Still, theirs was largely a happy life, as shown in Rene Feret's Mozart's Sister, a lavishly photographed period biopic that contrasts the family's struggle with the luxuries of its patrons. Papa Mozart (Marc Barbe) was a taskmaster but a doting father. Frau Mozart (Delphine Chuillot) was warm and stable. And this is crucial: Nannerl (Marie Feret) and Wolfgang (David Moreau) loved music. They lived and breathed it. They performed with delight. The great mystery of Mozart's life (and now we must add his sister) is how such great music apparently came so easily. For them, music was not labor but play. One understandably hesitates to say Nannerl was as gifted as her brother. We will never know. She played the violin beautifully, but was discouraged by her father because it was not a woman's instrument. She composed, but was discouraged because that was not woman's work. She found her family role at the harpsichord, as Wolfgang's accompanist. The feminist point is clear to see, but Leopold was not punishing his daughter so much as adapting his family business to the solidly entrenched gender ideas of the time. There's a trenchant conversation late in the film between Nannerl and Princess Louise de France (Lisa Feret), the youngest child of Louis XV. From such different walks of life, they formed almost at first meeting a close, lifelong friendship, and shared a keen awareness of the way their choices were limited by being female. A royal princess who was not close in line to the throne (she was the 10th child), Louise had two career choices: She could marry into royalty or give herself to the church. She entered a cloistered order, and it was her good fortune to accept its restrictions joyfully. But think if we had been males! she says to Nannerl. Each could have ruled in their different spheres of life. Nannerl also has a close relationship with Louise's brother, the Dauphin prince (Clovis Fouin), a young widower. It seems to have been chaste but caring. Nannerl was always required in the wings of her brother's career, and after his death at only 35, she became the guardian of the music and the keeper of the flame. She found contentment in this role, but never self-realization. The movie is an uncommonly knowledgeable portrait of the way musical gifts could lift people of ordinary backgrounds into high circles. We hear Papa in a letter complaining about the humiliations his family experienced by tight-fisted royals (they were kept waiting two weeks as one prince went out hunting). Leopold was a publicist, a promoter, a coach, a producer. It is possible that without him, Mozart's genius might never have become known. The film focuses most closely on Nannerl, a grave-eyed beauty, whose face speaks volumes. She aspires, she dreams, she hopes, but for the most part, she is obedient to the role society has assigned her. Marie Feret, the director's daughter, is luminous in the role --Roger Ebert RogerEbert.comSee all Editorial Reviews
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But first, the film itself. It's nicely staged in beautiful locations with great costumes and looks very handsome. The budget does not allow for huge scenes of the Court of Louis XV, but is satisfactory without them. Overall the acting is good, particularly Marc Barbe as the stern but loving Leopold Mozart and David Moreau, a lively fourteen year old Wolfgang Amadeus. However, the director, Rene Feret, chose to use his three daughters in important female roles including that of Mozart's Sister, Nannerl, and this does not work so well as she is not very expressive. The film moves along slowly and though it seems endless at times, it is still somewhat satisfactory, thus my "It's OK" Three Stars.
It would seem that the director wanted to make a film about how historically the talents of women were often shunted aside simply because they were women, a worthy topic. In that case,however, he should have made a film about Clara Schumann, a notable and worthy historical example and not the negligible Anna-Marie (Nannerl) Mozart. But few know or care about Robert Schumann anymore whereas Wolfgang Amadeus is a superstar, so I think the director chose to concoct this Mozart fantasy to ride on Wolfgang's coattails.
THE HISTORY. The movie turns on a broken carriage wheel leading the Mozart family to stay at the Abbey of Fontevraud where the three youngest daughters of Louis XV are living because he had ten children by the Queen, too many to keep at Versailles. Nannerl befriends them, especially Princess Louise, who eventually became famous as a princess who gave up Versailles to become a Carmelite nun. The basics are all true, but the Mozart's could not have met them as the Princesses left the Abbey and returned to Versailles six years before Wolfgang was born, and when Nannerl was one year old. When she joined the Carmelites she was 33, not a child as shown in the film.
Later on the director, who also wrote the script, has Nannerl have a romantic flirtation that starts to become rather serious. This would have been acceptable if he had her fall for an army captain (as she actually did in Salzburg, though Leopold would not let them marry), or even a count or marquis. But no, he has to have her become involved with the Dauphin Louis of France no less (the Crown Prince who died before his father, Louis XV and whose son became Louis XVI). This is really too much, and sends the film into Romance Novel territory rather than any possible reality.
The relationship between Wolfgang and Nannerl was warm and they even made up their own language in which to converse. They corresponded for many years and Wolfgang sent her copies of his Piano Concertos as he wrote them, all the way through number 21 in C (K.467). There was never any evidence of jealousy on Nannerl's part and, dutiful daughter that she was, she stopped playing publicly at age 17, because it would have been scandalous to continue in those days. She was highly praised for her keyboard technique as long as she did play in public.
There is not much evidence that she ever wrote any music. The only reference is in a letter from Wolfgang where he says he liked the pieces she sent him. These may have been short keyboard pieces but Wolfgang would have said more had they been the fully orchestrated works she composed in the film. There is no other evidence at all, and no way to judge what they might have been. But the film goes so far as not only to suggest that she was writing keyboard concertos, but that some of Wolfgang's early works were actually composed by her. This is way out of line and uncalled for. Perhaps if she was Wagenseil's sister, but Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart didn't need to steal music from anyone.
There are other things, but this is enough. The film is a total fantasy, so enjoy it or not according to your taste but do not confuse it with actual events.
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