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Thursday 23 January 2020

Playing second fiddle to Mozart

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

mozart's sister

(Club IFI, 120 minutes)

Director: René Féret Stars: Marie Féret, Lisa Féret, Marc Barbé


It can't have been easy being Mozart's big sister. Maria Anna 'Nannerl' Mozart was Wolfgang's only surviving sibling, and acted as his accompanist on early European tours.

We know that she was also a gifted musician, and she probably composed as well, but there's no mention of it in the extensive correspondence of her father, Leopold, and Anna Maria disappeared into the obscurity of a prosperous marriage at a young age. From these bare bones of biography, René Féret has extrapolated a drama that explores the dilemmas of a life lived in the shadow of blinding genius.

We meet the Mozarts in the mid-1760s as they trundle west from Salzburg to perform a series of gigs in France. Fourteen-year-old Nannerl (Marie Féret) and her 11-year-old brother Wolfgang (David Moreau) have been wowing the courts of Europe for five or six years with their virtuoso performances, but are beginning to grow weary of the constant travelling. Their father, Leopold (Marc Barbé), is their dedicated tutor and has made it his life's mission to nurture what he believes is their divinely inspired talent. But he's devoted most of his time to his precociously gifted son, and has begun to neglect Nannerl.

When the family's carriage breaks down in the northern French countryside, they seek shelter in a nearby monastery that turns out to be the home of Princess Marie Louise (Lisa Féret), daughter of Louis VX. Marie Louise and her two sisters were sent to the convent as infants to be educated, and she doesn't even remember what her parents look like.

She takes a shine to Nannerl, and they become friends. And when the Mozarts decamp for Versailles, where they're due to perform, Marie Louise asks Nannerl to deliver a message to her true love. To deliver it, Nannerl must disguise herself as a man, and forms an unlikely friendship with Marie Louise's brother, Louis, the charismatic and arrogant Dauphin of France. Louis is impressed by Nannerl's musical ability, but she's playing a dangerous game at a court where lapses in protocol are very severely punished.

René Féret's film is clearly a labour of love: two of his daughters star in it, and he's taken great pains to remain faithful to the mores and ambiance of the period, even to the extent of using candlelit interiors that make Barry Lyndon look over-lit.

Though the film's central romance is entirely fanciful, Féret shows restraint and intelligence in his depiction of the Mozart family unit. Leopold, for once, is not an overbearing monster, and young Wolfgang is just about as obnoxious a little tic as you'd expect. But the film's pace is altogether too stately, and the reputedly troubled relationship between Nannerl and her little brother never really comes to life. Mozart's Sister hints that she had touches of her Wolfgang's genius, but whether or not she really did we'll never know.

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