Saturday, February 25, 2012


Marie Feret in Mozart's Sister
Mozart’s Sister
Directed, produced & written by Rene Feret
Starring Marie Feret, David Moreau, Marc Barbe, Delphine Chuillot, Clovis Fouin
Released on DVD/Blu-ray on February 24, 2012

Unlike Amadeus--the heavy-handed but popular drama that showed how unfair it was that genius resided in an imbecilic Mozart, while the intelligent Salieri was damned to mediocrity--Mozart’s Sister delicately explores how the soon-to-be-immortal composer’s sister deals with living in the wrong era as the wrong sex.

Rene Feret’s thoughtful, nuanced character study features a family both ordinary and extraordinary: parents Anna Maria and Leopold--whose love of music rubbed off on his children--travel throughout Europe as chaperones for their musicmaking children, remarkable pre-teen prodigy Wolfgang; and skilled teenage singer and musician Nannerl.

The film opens with the Mozart family, on its way to Versailles to perform for at the French court, spending time at a convent after their carriage breaks down. Daughter Nannerl befriends the king’s three youngest daughters, who have been squirreled away to the convent to be raised by nuns. The youngest, Louise--who does not remember her parents--becomes quite close to Nannerl, asking her to carry a note to the son of the music master who recently visited the convent. Conveniently, they are also at Versailles.

Because the Dauphin--son and heir of the King--is mourning a sister who died in childbirth, Nannerl must disguise herself in boy’s clothes since tradition dictates that the Dauphin cannot see an unknown female while mourning. She delivers the note and becomes fast friends with the Dauphin while in disguise, playing music with him and telling him that she (he?) writes music as well. But being in disguise can come to no good end for Nannerl, even after she confesses to the Dauphin about her deception and he accepts it good-naturedly.

This fairly weak middle section, which Feret seems to have added to provide conventional romantic conflict to an otherwise subdued study, does little more than pad Mozart’s Sister to two hours. Much more convincing is his exploration of the Mozart family as an ongoing carnival sideshow for the royal courts of Europe, which was both natural and unnatural to all four of them, particularly the children.

Unlike the idiot savant in Amadeus, young Mozart in this film is a normal child with a precocious genius: even though he is catered to in every way at the expense of his older sister, his relationship with Nannerl is close and genuine; they play together as any siblings would when not performing or practicing music.

Happily, Nannerl has not been turned into a pre-feminist symbol. That Feret cast his daughter in the title role, it could be seen as mere nepotism, but Marie Feret is utterly winning, her naturally sad eyes speaking volumes about her station in life as an intelligent and talented young woman who will never be able to pursue a music career despite her love for it.

Despite its lovingly recreated milieu of 18th century drawing rooms and music rooms (including filming inside Versailles), Mozart’s Sister is ultimately the story of the disappointments that are part of family life. Although Nannerl is aware of what her “place” is in this society, she feels ill-equipped to do what’s expected of her: she exasperatingly tells her mother: “I don’t like cooking. Who would marry me? All I can do is sing and play.”

At the end, when Wolfgang, mother and father leave for a walk after dinner on the Mozarts’ last night in Paris, Nannerl slowly come to realize what her future holds. She puts the plates away, then walks to the fireplace to incinerate copies of her own compositions, watching the last vestiges of herself as a composer go up in flames.

In the next and final scene, the family is in its carriage leaving Paris: as she hears her father excitedly discussing with her brother the full-length opera Wolfgang will soon compose (“Mr. Composer,” Leopold labels his son), the camera remains on Nannerl as she slowly absorbs their words, knowing that her life will soon change once her brother’s musical talent separates him from his contemporaries.

As her sad eyes stare into space, titles inform us that Nannerl got married at age 32 to a man 20 years her senior and inherited five stepchildren and that she spent the last years of her life--before dying at 78, blind and poor--collecting her beloved brother’s compositions for posterity, remaining as loyal to his memory as she was to him when he was alive.

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