Short Takes: Mozart’s Sister
(René Féret, France, 2010)
Written by Chris Chang
It’s a family affair (in more ways than one): Leopold Mozart’s world-famous son had a supremely gifted sister (nicknamed Nannerl) whose story has been largely forgotten. René Féret’s film serves as corrective.
In her youth Nannerl was told repeatedly that musical harmony, counterpoint, and composition were beyond the purview of delicate female minds (and that if she had any yearnings for art her only way into that world would be as a model). She clearly had talent however—talent that perhaps, as the film suggests, might have eventually rivaled that of Wolfgang. In their early years, brother and sister, chaperoned by their parents, performed as child prodigies. But when Mozart’s sister reached marriageable age, she was no longer allowed to play.
Féret has cast his daughter Marie as Nannerl—and Marie’s younger sister as the convent-bound Louise de France. He has cast himself and his brother (and his brother’s son) in minor roles—which is not to mention the help from his producer-editor wife, Fabienne. The clan somehow managed to secure Versailles as a location, which only serves to amplify the film’s visual sumptuousness. Féret has also added a love story to the historical record, in which Nannerl must dress as a man in order to secretly rendezvous with an extremely bisexual-looking Dauphin (Clovis Fouin). Romantic and engaging—with lush musical detail throughout—this most enjoyable film is, in the end, a thoroughly demoralizing tale of female oppression.
© 2011 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center