It's 1763 and the Mozart family's exhausting life on the road involves traveling by coach from one royal court to the next, where the nobility marvel at young Wolfgang's (David Moreau) prodigious talent. But it was accomplished singer, harpsichordist, violinist Nannerl (Marie Féret), Wolfgang's elder by five years, who first held forth as the family's infant prodigy. She is still performing, though getting overshadowed and sidelined as accompanist to Wolfgang. Her father, Leopold (Marc Barbé), bows to social strictures 'for her own good,' refusing to let her continue with the violin or to compose, while privately conceding Nannerl's talent to his wife Anna-Maria (Delphine Chuillot). No longer a precocious tot, Nannerl chafes at the limitations imposed by her gender and frets about her prospects.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Who knew? Mozart had a sister?
He did. 'What if' is usually the mantra for sci-fi movies, not biopics, but in this case we can't help but wonder what if Maria Anna 'Nannerl' Mozart had been born not in 1751 but in 1961, all her composing and vocal talents intact. Could she perhaps have made a brilliant career, like acclaimed composer and singer Lisa Gerrard (born 1961) who wrote and performed the score for Gladiator.
In the 18th century, women in Europe were not allowed by social rules to play the violin. Nannerl was brilliant at it. Women were not meant to be composers. Nannerl was an inspired composer.
And Nannerl had a talented younger brother, Wolfgang, on whom all attention was focused.
This veritable Féret family project devoted to Nannerl's story is only partly speculative, told as if from inside the Mozart family; it is definitely intriguing and perhaps a little sad. Nannerl's evident talents had to be left unused after the first burst of her life as a young prodigy - when Wolfgang came along and overtook her place in their father's ambitions.
Leopold the father Mozart is not portrayed as a misogynist at all, but a product of his time. The story covers just a short timespan in the family's life, but it's crammed with incident and emotion.
The writer / director's older daughter Marie plays Nannerl with a quiet, introspective minimalism which suits the temperament of a young woman who did in real life abandon her music and followed her father's wishes. Barbé is a credible if slightly austere Leopold, but it is the young Moreau who impresses as the little Wolfgang Mozart prodigy. He doesn't have many lines but he does have presence - and apparently a talent for the violin.
Also memorably impressive is younger daughter Lisa as Louise de France, one of the discarded daughters of Louis XV who strikes up a special friendship with Nannerl. Her angular face and plaintive voice help create a unique character whose utterances are surprisingly wise for her age (13).
Clovis Fouin plays the young Dauphin whose complex interest in Nannerl is used as a central dramatic device to add tension and texture to the story. I don't know how much of this relationship is based on research and how much of it is taking liberties, but it seems authentic enough to fit. His scenes are confined to the palace at Versailles, shot on the actual location, which adds greatly to the film's sense of place and time.
The film begins with the Mozarts travelling by horse drawn carriage in a snow covered country track to one of their many gigs around the palaces of Europe, like a touring band. Life on the road is tough, especially when your clients are unreliable and/or mean.
There are some revealing insights here, which the filmmaker has gleaned from his research, including letters from Leopold to a friend. Many of the details of daily life are used to weave a richer experience, and to bring the family into closer focus.
Beautifully shot by Benjamin Echazarreta, the film is designed with style and has a handful of Mozart musical moments, while composer Marie-Jeanne Séréro seamlessly blends in some original underscore here and there passing for Nannerl's own works.
Clearly a film for those with an interest in Mozart and his family, it is also interesting from the point of view of social history, offering insight into the era - at least one sliver of it, when humble Salzburg musician family meets the not so humble French court of Versailles.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Review by Louise Keller:
There's a wistful air about this sumptuous French costumer that tells the little known story about another talented Mozart, who sings like an angel, plays the violin and harpsichord and aspires to be a composer like her younger brother Wolfgang. Her nickname is Nannerl; she accompanies her protégé brother on the harpsichord presenting concerts through Europe accompanied by her parents. It's an intriguing film that gives us a very different view of life on the road with an obsessed stage father, and examines women's place in 18th century European society as it canvasses the journey of a young woman whose talents are never allowed to blossom.
The film is a family affair, produced, directed and written by René Féret, edited and produced by his wife Fabienne and daughters Marie and Lisa taking the key roles of Nannerl and Louise respectively. Appropriate perhaps, bearing in mind that the travelling Mozarts also comprise family members. At times there's almost a sense that Wolfgang (David Moreau, cute as a button) and Nannerl are like performing animals, groomed by their ambitious father Léopold Mozart (Marc Barbé) and nurtured by their mother Anna Maria (Delphine Chuillot) as they traipse from court to court. But it is not proper for a girl to play violin or for her to learn composition. Much to Nannerl's chagrin.
Visually gorgeous, the film begins in dense, snowy conditions when the carriage in which the Mozart family is travelling to Versailles breaks an axel, forcing them to take refuge in an abbey in Saint Denis. It is there that 14 year old Nannerl befriends one of the King's daughters, Louise, a serious little girl of 13 who wishes she could also lead a life filled with music, adventures and fun. How different their destinies might have been, Louise wonders some time later, had they both been boys. Both girls give superb performances and Marie Féret is mesmerising as the young ingénue with a dream she is unable to follow.
From scenes in which we get a sense of the dynamic between Wolfgang and Nannerl, rehearsing, joking and performing their music, we become involved in Nannerl's budding new relationship with the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin, charismatic), the future King of France. When he hears her high C he is smitten but their relationship is off limits, and Nannerl wears men's clothing as a foil. Eager to learn composition and make her own mark in music, Nannerl tries to find her own independence in Paris.
The settings are beautifully ornate, with textured walls with intricate gold-leaf trim, paintings and the scenes by candlelight evoke an aura of magic. The story weaves slowly and at times with some confusion but it doesn't detract from the experience. At first we are not sure what is the story? Is it the Mozart family on the road? Is it about the relationship between Wolfgang and Nannerl? Is it the conflict between Nannerl and her father? The film comes into its own when Nannerl meets the Dauphin and it is her journey that we follow. We constantly feel for this talented and sensitive musician whose dreams are constantly thwarted. As to be expected, the music is wonderful too with special compositions by Marie-Jeanne Serrero representing what Nannerl might have composed. This is a journey into an era where status is everything and if you were born a woman, there are no choices in the happiness stakes.
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MOZART'S SISTER (PG)
Nannerl, la soeur de Mozart
CAST: Marie Féret, Marc Barbé, Delphine Chuillot, David Moreau, Clovis Fouin, Lisa Féret, Adele Lepretre, Valentine Duval
PRODUCER: René Féret, Fabienne Féret
DIRECTOR: René Féret
SCRIPT: René Féret
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Benjamin Echazarreta
EDITOR: Fabienne Féret
MUSIC: Marie-Jeanne Séréro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Veronica Fruhbrot
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 7, 2011