Published: 12 April, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by René Féret
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
At the very start of this film, we see the trouble our lead character has to contend with.
Nannerl Mozart, big sis to Wolfgang Amadeus, is gently bowing a tune on a violin in the back of a carriage during a long and rather arduous journey through a wet and muddy 18th-century France.
Her father sticks his head inside and roughly tells her to can it – it’s just not the done thing for a young lady to play the fiddle, he warns.
Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart (played by Marie Féret) is five years older than her precocious brother Wolfgang (David Moreau).
A talented musician, a virtuoso when a fiddle is placed in her hands, she has found her chances of performing live curtailed not by any issues with the standard of her ability, but by the fact she is a woman.
The Mozarts are touring Europe, showing off their musical prowess in court circles of pre-revolution France.
Loving but strict father Leopold (Marc Barbé) has decided that with Nannerl reaching the age where she’ll be bundled off to marry, it’s time for her to stop playing the violin and writing music, and start picking up the skills a fellow of the period would like to see in a future wife – namely, being seen and not heard.
We follow the tale of Nannerl as she chafes against the restrictions placed on her by the strictures of society – until a friendship with the offspring of Louis XV offers her the chance to challenge the status quo.
Of course, the music is not just a background accompaniment to the drama unfolding on screen, but part and parcel of creating a wonderful sense of atmosphere.
Director René Féret has done this so well in every scene.
As well as the soaring scales played on violins, harpsichords and the like, sound plays a massive role in the film.
Creaking doors and the noise of leather shoes squeaking along polished mahogany floors, the squelch of boots sinking into unmade roads, the soft breathing of horses pulling carriages – everything feels slightly amplified, perhaps due to the quiet, darkened tones of the settings.
This is a world before the electric lightbulb, and Féret has marked that by creating shady corners in every scene.
This picture has depth, right down to the fact that when they could not find any surviving examples of Nannerl’s compositions, they got a composer to research the period and create pieces that they believed would be in a similar vein to those Miss Mozart would have written.
The film draws on the correspondence of Leopold Mozart during the three-year period when he took his musical children around the courts of Europe.
The letters provide a source from which the director has imagined what life on the road would have been like.
But poor Nannerl. Although her father recognised her brilliance, he knew she would never be accepted as a composer or perform because of her gender, so he focused on nurturing Wolfgang.
She accepted this state of affairs and was her brother’s biggest cheerleader – she outlived him by 40 years and spent the rest of her life championing his music.
This film tells her story. It is not a bio-pic as such, just a well-imagined and quite beautifully rendered film.