Thursday, October 17, 2013

Prisoner of love

One is a princess, one is a genius, both confined for being women.
They're going to have to make a mini-series about Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang Amadeus, in order to explore all the stories and complexities of this ambiguous figure in music history.  In Amadeus, he was the enabler, in Mozart's Sister (2010), the disabler of musical genius.

I presume you can guess at the story premise from the title.  René Féret, the film's writer-director, has imagined that Nannerl was not only a fine performing musician, but an incipient composer, an idea which can be neither proved nor disproved, since although we have no surviving compositions by her, Féret proposes that she burned all her manuscripts when her path to composing became impassable.  But it feels plausible, especially given the very nice music composed for her by Marie-Jeanne Serero.  (In time Nannerl is persuaded by her father Leopold to give up the man she loves and marry a nobleman of his choice, then to turn over her only son, named Leopold for her father to raise in case he was also a musical genius, which he was not.  She died blind and impoverished, having turned almost everything she had, material and spiritual to her voracious father.)

Féret's screenplay makes Nannerl the confidant of princesses, most notably the youngest daughter of Louis XV, who had no contact with her parents after early childhood and eventually became an abbess, turning to the only people who had shown her love, the nuns of the abbey in which she was raised and lived.  Louise and Nannerl (shown above) are played by daughters of Féret, which raises questions as to how much of a Leopold Mozart is the director of the very film we are watching, and is the whole thing just a hall of mirrors?

Two more observations and I'll go.  First, this is a very difficult type of film to make without the audience getting lost in the elegant surfaces of late 17th century court life.  It helps that the Mozarts are often living in shabby circumstances which diminish the glam factor.  And starting the film with Nannerl peeing in the snow might help some people.  But I suppose we can never resolve the tension as to whether people of previous epochs are just like us with fancy clothes, or utterly unlike us other than a superficial flesh resemblance, albeit the flesh factor is magnified by the film medium.

Second, it's odd to see Wolfgang Mozart relegated to a small supporting part as a bright-eyed, somewhat mischievous but still rather sweet child.  Maybe Amadeus would have been easier to take if we had seen that he once had not been an insufferable pig.

Third (I know I said I'd confine myself to two, but I thought of another and if you really want to hold me to my word, you're going to have to stop reading because Lord knows, I can't control what you do with your free time), I don't know whether it's Féret or just being French or even being European, but the film is a little bit like that person you're trying to finish a conversation with and he makes his point and you acknowledge that you understand and accept that and now it is time for you to get in your car or the elevator or what-have-you but you can't because he is making that same point again, and you are politely nodding and trying to indicate with body language that you are ready to move on and that he should be, too, and yes, he nods his head suggesting that he has read your non-verbal message and you are about to turn away but still he takes on that pre-emptory inhale that warns that long-winded important things are to be said, and alas, they are the very things that have been said.

The point is, we know that it sucks to be a woman and that it really, really sucked 275 years ago and we never really believed that she was going to make a career as a composer because...guess what...we've never heard of her music.  So, M. Féret, we're way ahead of you and we stay ahead of you for most of the two attenuated hours.

But there is no question, as far as performances by the daughter of the director go,  has got Sofia Coppola beat six ways from Sunday.

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