Mozart’s Sister

Original title or aka: Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart

Director: René Féret
Starring: Marie Féret, Marc Barbé, and Delphine Chuillot
Distributor: Rialto Films
Runtime: 120 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild sexual references and coarse language

In a fine Sherlock Holmes’ film, The Sign of Four, Holmes did an analysis of Watson’s alcoholic brother’s scarred watch and when Watson protested that Holmes had cheated and knew the identity, Holmes replied with calm apology and regret, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had a brother’. Which came to memory while watching this film about the Mozart family and Wolfgang – ‘I didn’t even know you had a sister’. With this film, now we do.

Writer-director Rene Feret delved into the Mozart family archive and discovered letters written by the father, Leopold. The film opens with a voiceover of one of these as we watch the events he is recounting. Mozart is about ten and his father (surely one of the most avid showbiz parents of all time, though showbiz doesn’t sound particularly 18th century) and mother are on a tour of Europe to display the child prodigy, his compositions, his harpsichord and violin playing. They even spend some time at the court of Louis XV in Versailles, where some of the film was actually shot. Oh, and there is also the older sister, Maria Anna, called Nannerl.

So, Wolfgang, precocious as he is, and whom we see playing, becomes a supporting character. This is a film not only about Nannerl, but a film of deep regret that she has been forgotten, and a lament at the restrictions placed on women in the 18th century, especially a player, singer and composer like Nannerl. Her father did not believe that the violin was an instrument for women, nor that women should compose – and expresses himself quite heartlessly to his daughter while he thinks he is caring for her.

Did all this happen this way? Maybe, maybe not. Feret has drawn on fact and embellished it with imagination.

Music lovers and devotees of classical costume drama will relish this film. 18th century France lends itself to decorous costumes, to abbeys and chateaux. There is a lot of 18th century detail, even to the discovery of a toilet! The lighting is particularly striking, much of it re-creating the light at night in the obscure interiors, candlelight and shadows rather than brilliant spectacle. The spectacle is left for daylight.

Nannerl is fourteen as the film opens. She is enjoying the tour and her brother’s reputation and promotion. But, she is often frustrated in her attempts to be musically creative, except for the singing she is allowed to perform. When their carriage has a breakdown (perhaps too recent a word to describe what happens when the axle breaks), they stay in an abbey and discover several of Louis XV’s daughters have been relegated there. One of them, Louise, becomes a firm friend of Nannerl’s. Two of Feret’s daughters perform the rolesof Nannerl and Loiuse. The film skilfully shows us the loneliness of the girls, their loss of family, and how one of them would become a nun.

Then, at the court, while we see the prodigy amaze the music masters, Nannerl delivers a letter from Louise to a musician – though she has to disguise herself to enter the Dauphin’s rooms to do it. She becomes friendly with the Dauphin who disapproves of his father’s dissolute behaviour and forms a friendship with Nannerl.

But, according to the film, Nannerl is doomed to disappointment. The film ends and offers us more information, sad information, that she eventually did marry, looked after her father and collected the works of her brother, dying poor as an old woman.

Arthouse themes, an emphasis on visual and aural beauty, a trip to the 18th century – but, finally, a lament for ill-fated Nannerl, the ill-fate being that she was born female and not even considered capable and creative.

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