Bowing out of sibling rivalry
Dublin, 120 min A GLANCE AT this melodic, legato feature from René Féret confirms quite what a long shadow Milos Forman’s Amadeus casts. You may find that Oscar-winning film sluggish and over-praised but, when Mozart appears on a cinema screen, you still half-expect him to giggle like Tom Hulce.
Mozart’s Sister is a more sober affair. Shot in tight, underpopulated frames and featuring disciplined performances, the film is more of a subtle sonata than a grand opera. Féret offers us the Mozart family during their period of city-hopping fame. Less of a monster than he is often portrayed, this version of Leopold Mozart (Marc Barbé), the pater familias, balances driving ambition with genuine affection. We see young Wolfgang Amadeus displayed as a kind of travelling freak – playing the keyboard blindfolded – but we also see the clan snuggling up at night like a version of the von Trapp family.
As the title suggests, the picture remains focused on Wolfgang’s sister, Nannerl (Marie Féret, daughter to the director). We are given the sense that, in a different time, the poor girl could have been as famous as Wolfgang. She plays with her brother, but finds herself gradually edged to the sidelines. The violin is, apparently, only for boys. No woman could possibly get her head around the cerebral business that is composition.
Nannerl gets a chance to shine when she meets the French Dauphin. He, impressed by both her figure and talent, persuades her to start composing and arranges for a chamber orchestra to perform the resulting piece.
Shot in and around Versailles, the picture is good on the iciness, grubbiness and messiness of 18th-century life: arriving in Paris, the family is advised not to drink the water. Points are made about the obstacle course put before women trying to be artists. The music swirls seductively.
Still, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Mozart’s Sister is just a little too restrained. It tinkles nicely enough. But the odd surging major chord would not have gone astray.
Sister act: impressing the Dauphin