Deftly blending fact and fiction on film in Mozart’s Sister French Director Rene Féret explores the fascinating story of the elder sister of the youthful composer genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)). They were the only two of their parent’s seven children to survive.
The little we know of Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (1751-18), Mozart’s Sister, known to everyone in her circle as Nannerl (Marie Féret), is intriguing.
She was forced through the fury of fate and interference of social norms, to surpress her own talent and natural brilliance in favour of her brother.
She is allowed an opportunity to shine here through Rene Feret’s mixture of fact and fiction that produces a movie sublime.
It was the 24 December 1763 when the seven-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (David Moreau) arrived at the chateau with his father, Leopold (Marc Barbe), and twelve-year-old sister Nannerl.
They were visiting many of the great courts of Europe and their stay at the French court that was to last through to the 8 January 1764 was impeccably arranged through one of the Brother’s Grimm.
An account of their sixteen day visit to the chateau at Versailles reveals Nannerl not only met the King and his mistress, Madame du Pompadour, but also stood between The Dauphin and Madame Adelaide when she and her family attended the ‘King’s Royal Table, where important visitors were invited to stand and watch the King and his family dine, a great privilege.
Like her brother Nannerl was a child prodigy too, mastering both the harpsichord and the violin, the latter an instrument that as she grew older she was forbidden to play by their domineering father Leopold, because it was only considered worthy when played by men.
The Dauphin (Clovis Fouin) was to inherit the throne from his father Louis XV. He was an educated studious man, who loved music and he and his sister Louise of France (Lisa Ferét) feature heavily in the film.
Princess Louise considered Nannerl to be her friend after a chance meeting in an Abbey on their way to France where the French royal younger children lived away from court in the care of the nuns of the Sacred Heart.
The Dauphin is in mourning for his first wife when Nannerl comes to the chateau and so she is asked to dress as a boy to meet him, because it wouldn’t have been appropriate for her to meet him dressed as a woman while he was in mourning.
The film presupposes the known to be very shy ill feted Dauphin and Nannerl went on to have a personal relationship. Indeed it introduces the notion that they were in love with each other until the King required the Dauphin take Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony (1747) for his second wife.
Leopold Mozart on the other hand dominated Nannerl and Wolfgang until he grew up, and with this glimpse into her life you could surmise the bullying came from yet an even darker side of his personality.
Leopold Mozart’s exploitation of his children to make money and gain fame, catering to his own egotistical demands is well documented. He was a bully for evidence just look at Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni reputedly modelled on his father; it tells a tale beyond its libretto.
When on tour the children shared the same room as their parents, which happened a lot in high born situations, although we would think it perhaps a little creepy – an early example of helicopter parenting.
By way of contrast The Dauphin treats Nannerl as a musician, a woman who has earned his respect, until he banishes her from his side as arranged through his sister to divert suspicion that their friendship may have been more than it was.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had an extraordinary talent which loomed large by the time his sister came to womanhood, completely annihilating her own.
She proved her worth to him by remaining at his side throughout the years of his childhood, playing harpsichord with and for him, as he played the violin.
The Mozart children’s mother Anna Maria remained a background presence until she accompanied her son to Paris where she sadly died. Her letters home reveal an intelligent, optimistic woman possessed of a wry, self-deprecating wit, which it seems her son inherited.
Why one could ask, was a gem like this movie made in 2010 released at the 2017 festival? It and the period film Farewell My Queen, about the last few days of Marie Antoinette, were both made at Versailles and showing them again is all about helping to promote the exhibition of Treasures from Versailles, currently showing at the National Gallery of Australia.
Glorious to look at, divine to encounter, with sublimely sensitive and stunning acting performances by the youthful Marie Féret as Nannerl and Clovis Fouin as The Dauphin who tragically died young, the film Mozart’s Sister is a tour de force in every way.
On top of all of that there is the magic of the young Mozart’s music played by the ‘musiciens del’Orchestre du Dauphin’. Pure Bliss.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
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