Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister – A Pre-release Film Review

Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister –  A film by Réné Féret. Reviewed from a non-commercial DVD in French with English subtitles. 31.3.2012 (BK)


Nannerl Mozart – Marie Féret
Leopold Mozart – Marc Barbé
Anna-Maria Mozart – Delphine Chuillot
Wolfgang Mozart – .David Moreau
Le Dauphin – Clovis Fouin
Louise de France – Lisa Féret
Sophie de France – Adèle Leprêtre
Victoire de France – Valentine Duval
La Mere Abbesse – Dominique Marcas
Madame Van Eyck – Mona Heftre
Isabelle d’Aubusson – Salomé Stévenin
Maître de Musique Abbaye – Julien Féret
Maître de Musique Versailles – Nicolas Giraud
Hugues Le Tourneur – Arthur Tos
Marie-Josèphe de Saxe – Océane Jubert
The Professor of Music – René Féret


Director, Writer and Producer – René Féret
Editor – Fabienne Féret
Music – Marie-Jeanne Séréro
Director of Photography – Benjamin Echazarreta
Sound – Agnès Szabo, Emmanuelle Villard
Sound Mix – Hervé Guyader
Director’s Assistant -Julien Féret
Set Design – Veronica Fruhbrodt
Costume Design – Dominique Louis
Make-up Artist .- Sylvie Aid
Hair & Wigs – Isabelle Bertaud-Patocska

The films is made with the participation of the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée and the support of Région Ile de France, Région Limousin and in partnership with the Centre National du Cinéma.

French Director René Féret’s fictional film about Mozart’s older sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) was released in the US (see Mozart’s Sister ) in 2010 and will come to screens in the UK on April 13th. The film tells the story of the early life of Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart (Marie Féret), five years older than Wolfgang (David Moreau) and a musical prodigy in her own right. After Wolfgang takes over from her as the main attraction, in the Mozart road show Nannerl is supposed to fade into the background (to find a husband) and is strongly discouraged from following her musical aspirations by father Leopold (Marc Barbé).

We follow the Mozart family as they tour Europe seeking favour at courts across the continent – an 18th century version of the starstruck mother in the film Gypsy is a comparison that irreverently springs to mind – as one boy genius vies with another for the title of Ultimate Child Music Prodigy 1763. But the film is meant to be about Wolfgang’s sister and the focus is on what might have happened to her during this literal and metaphorical journey. A feeling of claustrophobia is constantly present as the cramped family carriage gives way to a succession of dimly lit lodgings and while  Nannerl’s opportunities shrink correspondingly as she gets older. This sense of restricting confinement is also reflected by the narrow (and even slightly crazy) lives of the French royal family, with whom the Mozarts come into contact by chance. Three of the princesses live in a convent for no apparent reason, and the recently bereaved Dauphin who is in deep mourning, seems to become progressively more deranged after another marriage is arranged for him by Louis XV.

During an unplanned stay at the convent where the princesses are forced to live – an axle has broken on the Mozarts’ carriage – Nannerl is befriended by Princess Louise de France and becomes progressively drawn into the royal family’s peculiar lives. She becomes a messenger carrying love letters from Louise to a music master (who turns out, rather unfortunately, to be her half brother), and despite being required to dress as young man for her duties as courier, she falls in love with the recently bereaved Dauphin. As their relationship deepens, her compositions are only ever heard by the Dauphin and his musicians – always with Nannerl wearing her disguise – until his dramatic, and appropriately unlikely, rejection of her following his arranged marriage. Nannerl’s  friendship with the Princess ends too when Louise becomes a postulant at the convent  when Nannerl finds herself rejected completely by the court because she no longer suits their purposes. After a final attempt at studying music in Paris progresses only when she dresses as a man yet again, and after trying unsuccessfully to earn a living by setting herself up as a female music teacher, Nannerl returns to her family and burns her compositions.

This is a lengthy film (120 minutes) which is curiously slow moving throughout. By design or not it is highly reminiscent of the French nouvelle vague from the 1950s and early 1960s. I found myself reminded fairly regularly of Alain Resnais’ L’année dernière à Marienbad from 1961, partly because of the many attractive candle lit interior shots of the Palace of Versailles  – which really do recall Resnais’ Baroque style hotel although they’re in colour – and also because of the film’s persistent and often highly stylised dreamy quality.

The sets are in fact extremely attractive and the costumes are, naturally enough, accurate and suitably rich. There is of course no music by Nannerl herself, and in one sense any genuine link with Mozart is tenuous in the extreme – but this might reasonably be expected in a film which openly declares itself to be a work of fiction. As a purely feminist tract however, which seems clearly to be one of the Director’s sub-texts, the plot line ultimately fails because of its tendency towards anachronistic thinking. The film drifts by pleasantly enough but in the end did little to make one care very much about any of its characters.

On the other hand, it’s a decently constructed story devoid of violence or bad language (Warning: there is one very mild sex scene with Herr und Frau Mozart under the sheets)  accompanied by some nicely put together light music. Granny will probably find it a bit tame but she’ll definitely love the frocks.

Bill Kenny