Monday 16 April 2012

Mozart's Sister Review

France and the UK are the two countries that seem the most enamoured with their period dramas,  but for very different reasons. In Britain, it is the sign of a barely concealed fascination for the aristocracy and those with privilege and money, and the recent collective orgasm for Downton Abbey certainly proves my point. No such thing in France where the aristocrats got given the "chop" a few centuries ago and republican values are still held strong. The French, which are a lot more conservative that you might believe, see their period drama as a refuge against modernism and globalisation, and the celebration of a certain cultural classicism. So here comes the little known and somehow fictionalised nstory of Mozart's sister in this new film aptly named Mozart's Sister.

You may remember the definitive adaptation of the life of the man himself, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, by Milos Forman in Amadeus, a bold film that broke many of the conventions of the period drama/biopic genre, and remains one of the Czech director's best film as well as a case study on how to create a "modern" period drama, full of life, energy and passion. It has not aged one bit by the way, as a recent viewing confirmed.

With Mozart's Sister, we have a much more gentle and traditional period drama. In what is a speculative account of her life, of which not much is known,  Maria Anna "Nannerl" Mozart is as gifted a pianist as her brother Wolfgang, even said to have helped create some of his compositions, and the pair is made to give concerts in all corners of Europe. But the younger brother is soon to hog the limelight and becomes one of the most talented and famous composers of all times, a life in shadows awaits Nannerl. Indeed as soon as she hits a marriage age, her strict father refuses to let her carry on playing, a wish she respects, unlike her younger brother who embraces his art and breaks through from his family's influence.

Mozart's sister is a gentle and subtle piece of period drama, that might not win any new fans to this genre however. The direction by Rene Feret is precise and far from showy, mercifully never falling into the traps of an over the top opulence. He is more interested in his characters and their evolution, as his camera follows them mostly in close shots, to catch all the nunances of their emotions.

The film is lead by the luminous yet restrained performance of Marie Ferret (the director's own daughter) in the title role. Looking ethereal in a studious kind of way that only French women seem to manage, she offers the delicate portrayal of a tormented mind, that has the good manner never to show it however. And there are some touching scenes of her befriending the children of king Louis XV: the dauphin, afflicted with a painful shyness, and his sister who somehow faces a similar life of submission than Nannerl, both finding an unlikely kindred spirit in her.

It is also the study of the dynamics of a family, whose father was torn between acknowledging the talents of his children while keeping up with society's conventions. There is obviously a marked feminist stance in the story of an obviously gifted musician who had to renounce her art, living in a era where it was all but inconceivable that she would be able to take her career any further.

Fans of French cinema, period dramas and classical music will find the most the enjoy in the minor but  pleasant film.

Mozart's Sister 2011 France. Directed by Renet Ferret. Starring Marie Ferret, Marc Barbe... Currently showing in UK cinemas

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