Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rene Feret
Stars: David Moreau, Marc Barbe, Marie Feret, Lisa Feret, Clovis Fouin.
This lavish and visually sumptuous costume drama from French actor turned director Rene Feret tells the little known story of Mozart’s older and equally as talented sister who was overshadowed by his fame. Her story was touched upon in the fascinating documentary In Search Of Mozart, but this film goes into greater detail, playfully mixing fact and fiction to good effect. Mozart’s Sister sets her coming-of-age story against the background of a fiercely patriarchal society.
The film begins in 1763. The Mozart family is on an extensive tour of Europe. The precociously talented nine year old Wolfgang (David Moreau) is impressing royalty and heads of state with his virtuoso talent. But due to the strictures of the time and the conservative views of Leopold (Marc Barbe, from La Vie En Rose, etc), the Mozart family patriarch, 14-year old Maria Anna (played by the director’s daughter Marie) is relegated to supporting her brother. Leopold is keen to highlight his son’s talents, much to Nannerl’s frustration and disappointment. While Maria Anna, affectionately known as Nannerl, is also a talented violinist, Leopold firmly believes that it is no instrument for a woman.
On the way to Paris to perform for Louis XV, their carriage breaks down and the family is forced to stay at an abbey. There Nannerl meets several of the king’s daughters, who have been sent to live there away from court, and she strikes up a close friendship with the lonely Louise (Lisa Feret).
At court, Nannerl meets the grieving Dauphin (Clovis Fouin, in his feature film debut), who is destined to become the ill-fated Louis XVI. He has a passion for music and convinces her to compose a concerto especially for him. The complex nature of their relationship further explores the themes of sexual identity, repression, frustration and wasted talent. Nannerl is forced to disguise herself as a male in order to speak to the Dauphin, and in this guise she is free to explore her musical talents. She struggles to exert her own independence in Paris, but her dreams are constantly thwarted by court politics. Ultimately, she is overshadowed by Wolfgang’s talents, and in the end she ends up protecting her brother’s legacy and cataloguing his body of work.
Mozart’s Sister is an interesting examination of a unique aspect of social history and the subservient role that women were expected to play in eighteenth century Europe. They were largely expected to be seen but not heard, and were often married off or sent away so as not to become a financial burden on their family. For instance, Leopold bows to the conventions of the time and refuses to let Nannerl continue to play the violin or compose music for her own good.
This is clearly a labour of love for veteran writer/director Feret, and he has ensured that the period details reek of authenticity. Several scenes were actually filmed inside Versailles itself, which lends an authenticity to the material. However, at times Feret’s handling of the material becomes a little sluggish and the pace tends to drag.
The performances across the board are fine. Feret in particular brings a combination of intelligence, playfulness, vulnerability, quiet desperation and a feisty quality to her performance. Moreau brings a suitably precocious quality to his performance as the young Mozart. Barbe brings an imperious quality to his performance as the controlling and chauvinistic Leopold.
The film is also something of a family affair it has been produced, directed and written by Féret himself, while his wife Fabienne has edited and co-produced the film, and his daughters play key roles. Technical contributions are also first rate. Benjamin Echazarreta’s cinematography is lush and he uses natural lighting to add a warm glow to the film. Dominique Louis’s costumes are beautiful. Veronica Fruhbodt’s production design is rich and evocative of pre-Revolutionary France. The music is also superb, and lovers of classical music will find the score a treat. Marie-Jeanne Serrero’s original compositions for Nannerl are also superb, and hint at what might have been.