Mozart’s Sister

Mozart’s Sister

Static Mass Rating: 2/5
Palisades Tartan

Original release: April 13th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 12A
Running time: 120 minutes

Country of origin: France
Original language: French with English subtitles

Director and writer: René Féret

Cast: Marie Féret, David Moreau, Marc Barbé, Delphine Chuillot, Lisa Féret, Clovis Fouin

To many, the 18th century classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the greatest composers ever to have graced music. He started composing at the age of five and went on to gain fame and perform in front of many European royals.

However, despite setting the scene with Wolfgang, like the film, it is not Wolfgang who must take centre stage. The success of the male Mozart child undoubtedly overshadowed any musical ability his sister, Nannerl, had and it is this overshadowing, and hypothesising over its reason, with which René Féret’s new film focuses.

Mozart’s Sister opens with Nannerl (Marie Féret), the eleven year-old Wolfgang (David Moreau) and their parents Léopold (Marc Barbé) and Anna-Maria (Delphine Chuillot) travelling through Europe. Along the way, the parents present their two musical child prodigies to courts and aristocrats.

Mozart's Sister

After a problem with their carriage they are forced to rest overnight in an Abbey where Nannerl meets and befriends Louise de France (Lisa Féret), the daughter of King Louis XV.

Louise asks Nannerl to deliver a letter to a court in Paris for her and this brings Nannerl, with a dash of contrivance, into the presence of Le Dauphin (Clovis Fouin) – the prince and heir – whilst dressed as a boy. After hearing the ‘boy’ sing and play, Le Dauphin becomes obsessed and effectively falls in love with her through her music, although Nannerl is discouraged from expressing herself musically by her strict father.

After her unveiling, this leads to Nannerl leaving the family group and setting up as a music teacher by herself in Paris; however, waiting for Le Dauphin might mean a very long wait indeed.

There are many things Mozart’s Sister excels at, including the period detail. What also helped was the way the film was shot. Although there is a fair bit of handheld camerawork, something which was criticised in Michael Mann’s period gangster film Public Enemies (2009), the film has an almost painterly quality, which I think is partly down to the way scenes are lit. Many night scenes occur by candlelight which in some instances is too dark and a little confusing, but it always creates an atmosphere and looks good.

Mozart's Sister

The performances are also good. Although I was not convinced to begin with, Marie Féret grows into the role of Nannerl and by the end is convincing as sister, daughter and musical prodigy in her own right.

Mozart’s Sister also highlights the great discrepancy between men and women during this period as we see Leopold bias toward Wolfgang and his abilities. He completely accepts Nannerl’s own skill but only in the instruments and crafts at which a woman should excel. When she wishes to play the violin, she is told that it’s not for women – though when she is disguised as a boy she more than holds her own with Le Dauphin’s royal orchestra. The same can be said when she wishes to learn to compose while hoping to impress the prince.

The ultimate decisions Nannerl is forced to make also serve to summarise these great differences. She is well aware that she is almost a failure as a woman as she does not have a liking for cooking – the fact that she is a musical genius is beside the point.

Mozart's Sister

Despite what is good with the film, there are a couple of major problems that I had with it. The first is Nannerl’s assertion that Wolfgang’s compositions from when he was five were actually hers, and also some of his later work as well. The film did a good enough job of showing the imbalance of the genders and Nannerl’s mistreatment as an artist, without needing to claim she was actually the genius behind one of the most revered composers ever.

Worse than that though, and my major gripe with the movie, is that it is just rather boring. The subject matter is not boring, the characters are by no means boring, the situations are not, the composition and camera-work are not, but the overall film really is. The story lacks drive.

My above summary of the plot doesn’t really leave out very much of interest. Although it’s nice to see Nannerl playing the violin, or listening in on Wolfgang’s composition lessons with his father, we are never hooked by what is going on. There is no real drama or tension pushing things along despite the difficulties facing various characters.

Unfortunately, we don’t particularly care for Nannerl or the other Mozart’s. We can objectively feel bad for her plight, but Nannerl and the plot never really get under our skin. It could have been little shorter, but ultimately I think it’s a lack of punch in the plot itself that causes the problem and lets down the many other enjoyable aspects of the movie.

About Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.