By Don Simpson | December 12, 2011
Director: René Féret
Writer: René Féret
Starring: Marie Féret, David Moreau, Marc Barbé, Clovis Fouin, Lisa Féret, Delphine Chuillot, Adèle Leprêtre, Valentine Duval, Dominique Marcas, Mona Heftre, Arthur Tos
Writer-director René Féret’s Mozart’s Sister is a fictionalized account of the early teenage years of Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart (Marie Féret), the daughter of Leopold (Marc Barbé) and Anna Maria Mozart (Delphine Chuillot), and sister to Wolfgang Amadeus (David Moreau). Nannerl and Wolfgang were educated at home — under Leopold’s watchful eye — where they learned basic skills in reading, writing, drawing, arithmetic, history and geography; their musical education was aided by regular exposure to their father’s rehearsals with his fellow musicians. Upon turning seven, Nannerl’s father began to teach her how to play the harpsichord. Originally the child star of her family and recognized as a musical prodigy, Nannerl was forced to the periphery of fame by Leopold as Wolfgang developed into the main attraction.
Leopold incessantly toured his two kids across Europe (Mozart’s Sister is predominantly set during the family’s 1763 tour of European aristocracy) in the hopes of developing Wolfgang into a superstar. The material rewards of their constant touring was never enough to fully transform the family’s lifestyle; but traveling did provide the children with ample opportunities to immerse themselves into the world of European royalty and bourgeoisie.
Nannerl harbored lofty ambitions of playing the violin and composing her own works, but society’s confining gender roles prohibited her (or any female) from doing so. Féret’s unique feminist perspective suggests that Nannerl chafed at the limitations imposed on her gender, writing musical compositions nonetheless (actual historical documents from Wolfgang do support this claim, though none of Nannerl’s compositions have survived). It is Nannerl’s friendship with two children of King Louis XV — Le Dauphin (Clovis Fouin) and Louise de France (Lisa Féret) — that enables her to challenge the established sexual and social constructs. Louise — a wide-eyed, 13-year-old princess — is isolated by royal decree in a remote abbey. Despite her royal status, Louise is given only two options in life: to marry or become a nun. (Suddenly, Nannerl’s life does not seem all that bad.) While dressed as a boy, Nannerl delivers a message to Versailles for Louise. Here, Nannerl finds herself face-to-face with the mourning Dauphin. Thanks to her masculine guise and the constant urging of the Dauphin, Nannerl is soon able to play violin and create compositions at will.
While discussing the influences of age, gender and sexuality on creativity and skill in the 18th century, Mozart’s Sister specifically takes on the selfish desires of parents. (I will refrain from making any accusations, but it is worth noting that René Féret directs two of his young daughters — Marie and Lisa — in this their third film working together as a family.) Of course without Leopold’s strict training and touring routine, Wolfgang probably would have never become one of the most famous 18th century composers in all of history. That said — Féret does reveal Nannerl as an undeniable inspiration to Wolfgang and deserving of significantly more credit for his legacy than history (otherwise known as his story) has provided.
Much of the dialogue is overtly wordy and feels totally contrived, while several scenes are emotionally crippled by their theatrically stilted nature; but these troubles have [unfortunately] come to be expected in low budget period pieces. Nonetheless, Marie Féret’s performance as Nannerl is quite impressive and Mozart’s Sister is a novel perspective of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life that deserves to be seen.