Beyond the regular costume drama, “Mozart’s Sister” is a thought-provoking exploration of angst and the pain of silence. We like to think that that no one — not even our loved ones — can keep us from our dreams, but this isn’t usually the case. Yet when director René Féret (“The Mystery of Alexina”) starts rolling his film’s credits, he assures us that we hadn’t conformed because we were cowards. He assures us that we are no different from Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart, sister of the legendary Wolfgang Mozart.
At the Michigan
While the film is centered on the titular Nannerl (Marie Féret, “Il a Suffi Que Maman S’en Aille…”), a would-be musical prodigy, and her search for self-realization as she squirms in the constraints that bind her, it sheds light on others as well. Her love interest, Louis de France (newcomer Clovis Fouin), fears he may become his own debauchery-loving father, and Louis’s sister Louise (Lisa Féret, “Il a Suffi Que Maman S’en Aille…”) has been isolated in an abbey away from her own family, where she befriends the young female prodigy Nannerl. They each live under a shadow whose shade they cannot escape.
But “Mozart’s Sister” never portrays conformity as single-faceted. For instance, Nannerl forsakes her own talent to devote herself to her family and brother’s genius, not only because of the era’s social standards for women, but also out of love. As for Louis, he ends his relationship with Nannerl, both under the pressure of the expectations for him as a royal and his fear of living the life his father led. And Louise — who used to be mischievous and playful — assumes a life of discipline in the abbey because of her adoration for the word of God and her father’s demand for her obedience. As is evident here, to call “Mozart’s Sister” just a feminist film would rob it of the subplots that complete it.
René Féret allows his story to grow organically, branching off to reveal the characters’ innermost selves. Enough screen time is lent to each of the characters for their stories to build, but never does it nauseate the audience with over-sweetened romance or schmaltz.
While his subtle and caring touch is a welcome sight, Féret should realize that it’s a film — a motion picture — not a fragile painting from the period he portrays. Films are meant to entertain, not simply to look at, and while the story shouldn’t be manhandled, it’d be better if it was at least pushed along. There are moments when the audience is following the characters through the creaky rooms and carriages only to feel like they’re being led on an aimless chase, without direction or drive. There are other times when the drama of the film swells, tying together all the loose ends, and could’ve simply ended. That said, “Mozart’s Sister” is a character study that has no intention of being fast-paced or kinetic.
In a twist of irony, the actresses who played Nannerl and Louise, characters pushed down the paths their parents chose for them, are Féret’s daughters. Odd — but it serves as another testament of the depths of “Mozart’s Sister.” The film moves beyond the usual coming-of-age tropes rife in the genre. Its attention is drawn toward the reasons for the characters’ silence and those who speak above them. As is shown in this film, genius is neither unleashed by passion, nor is it extinguished by cowardice alone. But by circumstance, it can either be bolstered to greatness or muted to oblivion.