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Mozart's Sister - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Mozart's Sister
Directing: C+
Acting: B-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B
Music: B+

Mozart's Sister is pretty to look at, I'll give it that. It has strong redeeming qualities in production and costume design as well as, of course, music. Although even the music is not quite as spectacular as you might expect; this is about Mozart's sister, after all, and set when Wolfgang was all of a preteen, which means none of his more famous masterpieces are featured. The very idea of writing an opera isn't even mentioned until the very end. Still, the music is generally lovely.

And so is Marie Féret as Nannerl Mozart, the titular character, although she does suffer a bit from an almost distractingly stoic delivery -- a condition that's apparently catching: nearly everyone here does it. Writer-director René Féret seems content for actors to emote when duty calls, but no more than that; Nannerl faints from a sickness and her mother (Delphine Chuillot) screams twice -- only to suddenly step aside and look on as though everything is normal. It's a bit odd.

The overall point Féret seems to be making is a showcase of institutionalized sexism in eighteenth-century Europe. It seems Wolfgang's sister, who was some four years older than him, was quite the talented musician herself. But the boy was the jaw-dropping prodigy, composing pieces from the age of five, and their father dragged them all over the continent to perform before royalty, where Nannerl was relegated to accompaniment.

Their father, Léopold (Marc Barbé), forbids Nannerl from playing the violin, saying it's a man's instrument. He discourages her from composing. And behind his back, she gains just a taste of recognition for her work -- but as a man.

The bit of cross dressing comes when Nannerl meets a young French prince (Clovis Fouin) after delivering a letter for a friend -- whom she cannot approach as a woman, so she's disguised as a man. It's a relief that this doesn't become an eighteenth-century French version of those eighties cross-dressing comedies, and the truth comes out to Le Dauphin earlier than expected. He's delighted, and an even greater fondness develops -- he for both her personally, and for her musical compositions.

But even when he arranges a performance of one of her pieces to be performed, she must again dress up as a man just so she can see it, and be recognized by the players as the composer. This is the crux of the story here, and indeed the entirety of Nannerl's life -- further complicated by royalty having marriages arranged for them. There can be no hope of a real relationship between these two.

It's not exactly a spoiler to say that things don't end well for Nannerl -- not exactly tragically in the traditional sense, but the idea of her finding happiness and artistic fulfillment is a pipe dream. This is perfectly legitimate as the subject of a speculative film. Unfortunately, even as a film subject, Nannerl just can't compare to her brother. You'll find a far better cinematic experience in, say, the 1984 film Amadeus. Wolfy is just a far more compelling personality, as much as Féret clearly tries to make him as bland a character as possible here. But centuries-old misogyny aside, there's just no escaping the fact that even had Nannerl been allowed to spread her artistic wings, Wolgang still had greater talent and would have outshone her regardless.

Féret might have managed to make us care a little more about Nannerl if there were some genuine drama featured on screen, but most of the delivery is strangely deadpan. The one relative exception is Clovis Fouin as Le Dauphin, conveying yearning as well as internal struggle in a way no one else manages. He single handedly lifts Mozart's Sister from tedious to moderately compelling.

Wolfgang Mozart (David Moreau, L) plays second fiddle to his sister (Marie Féret) for once in MOZART'S SISTER.

Overall: B
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