Friday, September 16, 2011

Mozart's Sister (orig. Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart)

MPAA (unrated) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Mozart's Sister (screenplay written and directed by René Féret) is a French language, English subtitled film about famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's older sister.  Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart has been the subject of numerous studies and novels in recent years because she herself was quite talented on the harpsichordist and pianist.  Like her younger brother, she began receiving instruction (on the harpichord) from her father at a very young age (at age 7).  During her teenage years, she would accompany her younger brother on the harpsichord and forte piano in his performances.  Finally especially during her brother's younger years, it was she who often received top-billing rather than her brother.  So what happened?  Why did Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart get so famous and his older sister Nannerl become a very small footnote in music history, only recently being given more attention?  Well that's what the movie's about ...

This is a story that will irritate (once more) a good deal of younger and middle aged women of today because it becomes fairly clear what happened to Nannerl (played in the movie by Marie Féret): As soon as her younger brother Wolfgang (played by David Moreau) began to show his talent, Nannerl became of secondary concern even though she was older and also quite talented.  To her father, Leopold (played by Marc Barbé) Nannerl became important to him only as much as she could continue to accompany her younger brother on harpsichord / piano.  And her mother (Anna Maria played by Delphine Chuillot) was primarily concerned that her daughter grow-up to be a nice, happy and well-adjusted young lady (thus able to find a nice husband and find happiness raising a nice family...)  Sound familiar?  And what did Nannerl think of all this?

In reality, we don't particularly know.  The movie takes place in and around Paris, France just after Nannerl had her first menstrual period.  This coincidence is important for a number of reasons.  First up until recent decades, women tended to get their first period only in the middle or latter part of their teenage years.  This coincided well with the age in which a young woman became otherwise ready to both have and care for young children (and be therefore ready for marriage).  So in the movie with Nannerl having had her first period, we see that her mother took this as a sign that her daughter had arrived at marriageable age.  This proves important for those seeking historical accuracy because it is known that from the point in which Nannerl reached marriageable age onward, she _no longer_ traveled accompanying her young brother and father throughout Europe but instead remained at home in Salzburg.  So the movie is set at exactly the point when Nannerl's life was about to change.  The movie explores the possibilities that would have been still open to her at that point in her life but possibilities that were rapidly closing for her as well.

If the movie is set in a true biographically/historically attestable turning point in Nannerl's life, the rest of the story becomes _less_ historically attestable.  Sure, it is true that the Mozart family traveled the courts of Europe to display the talents of their musically gifted children, and particularly their son Wolfgang.  There are also indications that Nannerl did write compositions of her own, as apparently her brother Wolfgang would refer to them in his letters to her as they both got older (as yet, none of Nannerl's compositions have ever been found).  Finally later in life, Nannerl did support herself as a piano instructor and may have done so earlier (again attested to by correspondence between her and her brother during his life).  But that Nannerl would have become a confidant of the young and future Louis XVI (as well as one of his sisters who became a nun) or that she would have _stayed on her own_ in Paris for sometime at this critical moment in her life to see if she would make it on her own as an independent young woman at that time, seems _to me_ to stretch credibility, though I suppose it _could_ make for some interesting historical research a young person today who is interested in history.  (Note to whoever would like to take-on such a little historical quest -- you'd almost certainly need to know some French and German to do so, or perhaps make some French or German-speaking friends ;-).

In any case, I found the movie interesting.  And let's remember that Milos Forman certainly took some liberties with his portrayal of Mozart (and Mozart's supposed rival Salieri) in Amadeus.  Indeed, one of the joys of watching _this film_, Mozart's Sister, is the difference in how it presents young Mozart from how Forman did in Amadeus.  In Amadeus, Mozart was portrayed as a wild, spoiled almost "rock star," who could get away with his nutty, self-indulgent behavior because he was simply _that good_ (that talented).  In Féret's Mozart's Sister, Mozart, much younger than in Amadeus, is portrayed as simply a short, smug, somewhat chubby little 10 or 12 year old, who's just totally focused on the one thing he does really, really well -- play music.  In other words, one just wants to slap him, and tell him "get that smug look off of your face." ;-).

Compared to the late-teen "almost a woman" angst-ridden portrayal of Nannerl trying to figure-out where exactly she belongs in life, this portrayal of her talented younger brother as a chubby little 10-12 year old who knows _exactly_ what he's doing was, IMHO, brilliant ;-).

Anyway, though unrated, there's nothing in this film (short of a red stain on Nannerl's nightshirt one morning) that I would think could possibly be of concern to a parent today.  I don't think that young kids would find this movie particularly interesting.  However folks who like history, or otherwise "period pieces" would probably enjoy this film. 

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