out of Five
Running time: 120
Mozart's Sister tells a heart-breaking story and is heightened by strong performances, impressive production design and a superb score, though the slow-moving story runs out of steam in the middle section and the final act feels choppy and unsatisfying as a result.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by René Féret, Mozart's Sister is a re-imagining of the story of Mozart's musically talented older sister Nannerl, played by Marie Féret (the director's daughter). Set in 1760s France, the film opens with the Mozart family – 11 year old violin prodigy Wolfgang (David Moreau), mother Anna-Maria (Delphine Chuillot), tutor-slash-manager and father Leopold (Marc Barbé) and 15 year old Nannerl – travelling around France, Germany and Spain playing recitals for the royal courts of Europe.
When a carriage breakdown forces the family to stay at Fontevraud Abbey, Nannerl befriends cloistered Princess Louise Marie de France (Lisa Féret, another of the director's daughters), who asks her to pass on a message to a suitor at Versailles. In doing so, Nannerl has to dress as a boy and when she begins a friendship with Le Dauphin (Clovis Fouin), she finds herself able to channel her increasingly suppressed musical talent (her father forbids her to play the violin, saying it's a boy's instrument and refuses to let her attend Wolfgang's composition classes) after the Dauphin asks her to compose for him.
Marie Féret is excellent as Nannerl, sparking intriguing, almost flirtatious chemistry with her own sister as Princess Louise (whose character is sadly underused) and conveying a genuinely charming sibling relationship with Moreau's “Wolfie” (complete with pillow fights). The scene where Nannerl has a piece of music in her head and both children excitedly rush to get it down on paper and play it together is one of several delightful moments.
The score is excellent: sadly, none of Nannerl's own music exists, so her authentic-sounding music was specially composed for the film by Marie-Jeanne Serero. The production design is equally impressive, with Féret taking care to contrast the indignities of the Mozarts' on-the-road lifestyle (having to share a room between all four of them; freezing cold, rickety, mud-splattered coach journeys, etc) with the splendour of their royal court venues.
The heart-breaking story will strike a chord with anyone who's ever felt overshadowed by a sibling and it also provides a thought-provoking comment on gender inequality. However, the dramatic action of the film peaks too soon and stalls in the middle section, leaving it with nowhere interesting to go, since none of the expected revelations provide the desired impact and the potential relationship aspects are frustratingly sidelined.
Mozart’s Sister is an emotionally engaging drama with a terrific score and a superb central performance from young Marie Féret, but the story loses its way in the second half and the conclusion is disappointing.