Monday, May 9, 2011

The Case for Relating to Music

For a bit of a change, I went along to a movie of which I had heard absolutely nothing.
Mozart’s Sister is a French film that I initially thought might be about some woman’s personal development through listening to the collected works of the maestro, much like Julia and Julia. But a quick glance at the synopsis before entering the theatre relieved me of that notion and confirmed that the movie was very much going to be about what it said on the box.

Nannerl was the nickname for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sister who was apparently almost equally as talented but hindered from becoming as famous as her brother because of the limitations imposed on women at the time. Due to this fact, I am not sure how factual the rest of the movie actually was, but it paints a fairly realistic picture of those life and times.

Well, kind of: for the most part, the Mozart family spend their time speaking French to each other, and while I am sure they spoke it, I am not altogether sure it would have been their language at home. Besides that though, life in those times is painted as sumptuous but creaking and drafty, cold but warmed by the use of fire and multiple layers. Versailles in particular is shown as incredibly opulent but at the same time I got the impression it would have been a not terribly comfortable (by modern standards) place to stay, with paper thin walls and retainers hanging around the whole time. The encounter with a toilet is seen as something close to magic, and the family live on top of each other making romantic encounters and the trials of growing up a more… family affair.

And a family affair the whole production seems to be. I am not sure of the name Feret is the French equivalent of Smith, but the fact that every other name in the cast and production list seems to end with that nom de famille made me incredibly suspicious that nepotism is alive and well in modern France. And, should that suspicion be correct, it probably explains a lot of the weaknesses in the film.

While there can be no doubt that the people playing Nannerl and Wolfgang make a convincing show of being able to play the violin, there is more doubt about the acting ability of the younger members of the cast. Wolfgang is not expected to do much, so his abilities as an actor are hard to judge, though he appears to display quite a proficiency when it comes to music. Nannerl appears likewise very adept with a violin, though it is obvious throughout that her singing voice is dubbed and we never see her hands at the clavichord keyboard.

But Nannerl, like all the younger women, seem to be part of the director’s family and so, no matter their musical qualifications, their attempts at acting are pretty monotone. The youngest daughter of the French King who befriends Nannerl is particularly painful to watch. All her dialogue is delivered in the careful, slow and flat pace of someone being very careful to read the script properly and to treat it with respect, rather than actually talking like people normally do. Even her walking is rehearsed and stilted. The actress playing Nannerl, in contrast, is miles better, but I couldn’t really say she made a particularly engaging protagonist. And the almost insane intensity of the actor playing the Dauphin was disturbing to say the least.

Most unnerving though was the use of a handheld camera for every shot, While it does give the illusion of fly-on-the-wall, “cinema verite” kind of thing, it can be completely nauseating and pretty much is throughout the film. The constant motion also robs a lot of the scenes of any intensity they might have, as I found myself combatting motion sickness rather than concentrating on what was going on before me.

Of course, what was going on behind me was equally as distracting, with a couple related to the person who sat behind me in
Thor holding a conversation-level volume discussion about the goings on in the movie before me. Being a subtitled film, it did seem a bit harder to demand silence from those others in attendance, but I was still not terribly impressed by their constant blathering, though luckily they seemed to run out of things to say after the first hour or so. I wonder if I will have another of their family behind me at my next movie?

Verdict: I cannot say that I like
Mozart’s Sister. It certainly felt like it was nailing the reality of life in that era, so from a scene-setting sense it was very convincing, but the actual story and abysmal acting were completely unengaging and, adding in the unceasing motion of the camera, it all felt a lot like a school play filmed with the production values of a major motion picture. It’s perhaps a bit ungenerous to say it might have been a case of nepotism gone mad (and bad), but the credit list at the end of the movie definitely gave the impression that it was a family affair in the worst sense of the word. The supporting actors were actually pretty decent, but the main cast were flat, despite their apparent musical aptitude. 2 out of an octave.

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