Sunday, July 29, 2012

DVD Drama: Mozart's Sister

Mozart's Sister is a fictional portrayal of the life of Maria-Anna Mozart, better known as Nannerl, sister to genius composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and thought to be a musical prodigy in her own right.

The movie opens showing the Mozart family traveling through Europe in the cold of winter from one country to the next as father Leopold showcases the talents of his children but especially that of his son, Wolfgang. Wolfgang plays the violin, while Nannerl accompanies him on the clavichord. Life is not easy for this family of this point, Nannerl is fourteen years old, Wolfgang only ten years of age. Nannerl is very gifted, able to play the clavichord, sing and play the violin. She especially loves the violin but her father refuses to allow her to play the instrument, telling her that it is not an instrument for a girl.

On their way to Paris, the axle of their carriage cracks and they are forced to put up at the Benedictine Abbey where they meet the four younger daughters of King Louis XV. These daughters, Victoire, Sophie, Therese and Louise were not raised in the Palace at Versailles but were sent to the Abbey of Fontevraud to stay until they were young women. Nannerl befriends Louise, who wishes for a life like Nannerl's. Louise hasn't seen her parents in years and she wishes she could live with her parents as Nannerl does.

Louise de France confides in Nannerl that she has fallen in love with the son of her music master, Hugues de Tourneur who has since left the Abbey to return to Versailles. She wishes Nannerl to take a letter to Hugues. Strangely, she also gives Nannerl a book about sex and asks her to destroy it. Nannerl agrees to both errands and the two depart promising to keep in contact.

When the Mozart's arrive in Paris, they learn that the Dauphine, Maria Teresa, the wife of Louis, Dauphin of France has died in childbirth and that the court is in mourning. Despite this, Nannerl's father continues to push Wolfgang in his music, arranging performances for the court where Wolfgang plays violin and Nannerl accompanies him on the clavichord.

Meanwhile, Nannerl manages to deliver Louise's letter to Hugues with the help of a friend in the court, who disguises her as a boy. At this time she meets the Dauphin, Louis of France, who is impressed with her musical abilities. He is only sixteen at this time, now a widower, and a lover of music. They begin a friendship with Louis encouraging Nannerl to compose for him. But when she asks her father to allow her to sit in on Wolfgang's composition classes, he refuses her, telling her women do not compose.

Nannerl's father decides to leave France for England and although she accompanies them to the country, she decides soon after to leave and return to France to try to set up her own studio and to compose. The Dauphin of France immediately commissions a minuet for violin and orchestra. In order to compose this piece, Nannerl sets out to attend composition class, which she does, disguised as a boy. With the Dauphin as her patron, Nannerl sees her first composition performed in the palace.

Eventually, Louis tells Nannerl that he must marry again and that he is to be betrothed to Maria-Josepha of Saxony who is fifteen years old. Louis who was very devoted to his first wife, tells her that he is disgusted with the debauched ways of his father who has numerous mistresses and illegitimate children. A devote Catholic, he will not take a mistress.

In the meantime, Nannerl meets Louise at the monastery in St. Denis and learns that she has become a nun. For Louise as a woman in 18th century France, there are only two options; marry royalty or become a nun. She is at peace with the latter choice, but she does tell Nannerl how different their lives would be if they were both born boys.  When Nannerl asks her about Hugues, Louise reveals that he is her half brother, from one of her father's many illicit liaisons.

When Nannerl's family return to France and are homeward bound to Salzburg, Nannerl decides to return with them despite the realization that she has nothing in common with her friends who have all been prepared for marriage. She destroys her compositions and accepts her future, one without composing or performing.

Written and directed by Rene Feret, Mozart's Sister presents a fictional telling of Nannerl's early life within the context of 18th century European society but with a slight feminist slant.  We see Nannerl, in her early teens, devoted to music which up until now has been her whole life, hopeful that she might be able to develop her talents on the violin and in composition. We know from history, that Nannerl Mozart was taught from an early age to play the harpsichord and was known as an accomplished pianist. However once Nannerl came of marriageable age, she was no longer allowed to perform [publicly. There is also some indirect evidence that she did in fact compose music but none of her compositions have survived. Mozart's Sister captures the quiet frustration Nannerl and other young women like her might have felt with so few options open to them in life.

The film realistically captured what life would have been like for the Mozart family traveling throughout Europe seeking the patronage of royalty and seems to be accurate in its portrayal of the relationship between Nannerl and her father, whom she obeyed throughout her life - even to the point of allowing him to decide whom to marry and allowing him to raise her young son.

Mozart's Sister will appeal to those who enjoy period pieces and also foreign films. The movie is a French language film with English subtitles. The director's two daughters star as Nannerl and Louise de France, and the rest of the cast give solid performances. Well paced, this film was shot on location at Versailles.

No comments: