Sibling Rivalry, by Jack Fleischer
I once met a man who talked at me for hours extolling the virtues of his favorite film, Amadeus. He talked about how it was a movie that summed up the brilliance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by perfectly blending fiction and fact. Even though historically inaccurate, the film becomes a “true tribute” to one of history’s greats. He said it used the fiction of film to illuminate the real genius. Let’s just say Mozart’s Sister is similar in that it is a blend of fiction and history … but that’s about where the family resemblance ends.
Mozart’s Sister is a French film (with English subtitles) that tells us about the forgotten Mozart, Maria Anna, or “Nannerl.” The historical fact of it is that she, Wolfgang’s older sister, was the original musical genius of the clan. A renowned harpsichord player, when the Mozart fam hit the road, touring the opulent palaces of Europe with their jive music, she was the original big draw. Unfortunately the 1700’s was not the greatest time to be a woman, and at the ripe old age of 15, the world kept telling Nannerl to put down the sheet music and pick up a hubby.
Of course when your younger brother is on course to become one of the greatest musical legends of all time, you might as well just start smoking reefer and playing “The Enchantment Under the Sea” dance.
But seriously, while the events of this film are fiction, there are elements of truth. Young Wolfgang and his sister were indeed close, and it’s been said that she was the person who inspired him to get into the whole music biz. On top of this, even though none of her work survived, there are letters Wolfie wrote to his big sis praising her own original musical works.
While this film does illustrate how 18th century European views on the abilities of women kept Nannerl out of the music history books; that seems it’s only aim. The fiction in this story, the primary storyline, centers on a potential affair with an heir to the French crown. It does little to enlighten us about her, and merely underscores the world’s shitty treatment of women. Although I know nothing of the finer points of classical music, this film does try to imagine imagines what music written by Nannerl would sound like. I imagine this might be a fascinating exercise for classical music fan, and that’s cool … but then we hit some bad notes.
For one thing, the film looks like the Dunder Mifflin film crew shot it. I don’t think there’s a single shot off the steady-cam. If I had to guess what was going on in director René Feret (The Man Who Wasn’t There ) mind he was trying to give it all a feeling of reality. All I can say is that it felt real odd and out of place in this particular period piece.
At the risk of seeming like a guy just out to beat up on the French, I think a lot of the failure of this film comes from “Coppola Syndrom” since Nannerl is played by Feret’s daughter, Marie Féret. Marie just doesn’t have the chops yet. Here she acts like she’s along for the ride, not playing an active and participatory role in the story. Especially when this woman could have been Madona or Lady Gaga in another age, her lack of subtlety and nuance makes the character flat and rather uninteresting.
Lastly, the story is just … uninteresting. I’m happy to have been introduced to Nannerl, and I’ll probably pick up the book of the same name, which thankfully has no relation to this film. This movie is not horrible, just not very good. It drains all the life out of the star of the tale. They play fast and lose with the truth, when the truth could have been much more interesting.