By Brian Lafferty
September 9, 2011 (San Diego) – Mozart’s Sister is the year’s leading candidate for the year’s dullest film. During the two hour running time I counted only three instances of mental stimulation and they were as brief as they could get. This is one of those movies in which there is absolutely nothing to think about.
Mozart’s Sister is a period piece that takes place in 1763. Nannerl (Marie Féret, daughter of director René Féret) is the young Wolfgang’s older sister. She’s musically talented, but the times forbid her and her female ilk from performing.
I simply could not care about the film or its characters. Maybe it’s because the focus is on an unimportant person. Nannerl is essentially a footnote in the annals of music history; the titles preceding the end credits state that she died penniless. Just as a cigar is just a good smoke, a footnote is just that, a footnote.
The color and lighting are the only aspects that offer something to look at. Cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta’s use of candlelight is spot on. The colors are not visually arresting, but the orange glow during night scenes and the waves of blue for nighttime shots help Mozart’s Sister avoid turning into a 35-millimeter black hole.
I do question Echazarreta’s use of the handheld camera. It doesn’t work at all. The setting is far too elegant for the rough shaking. It becomes so distracting that it severely undermines the sets and color scheme that he composed with care. It doesn’t cohere with the ultra-understated tone and atmosphere.
What’s most frustrating is the film’s inability to figure out what it wants to be about. Director and screenwriter Féret introduces plots and meagerly develops them before letting them fizzle out.
One of these plots is the film’s attempt at feminism. The first thirty minutes make it appear to be a film about Nannerl striving for an equal opportunity to perform. It teases us into believing that Nannerl, a musically gifted young lady, will rebel against this suppression while her brother starts to shine (the young Mozart has very little screen time, however).
Then the film turns into an 18th century Tootsie in reverse, with Nannerl being disguised as a boy, which gives her the opportunity to show off her skills. The introduction to this plot was one of the only three times that my mind felt somewhat awake.
But these two plots never take off. They aren’t abandoned entirely, but they don’t have any room to fully develop. They are two hugely missed opportunities. When this becomes apparent, all emotional investment in the film is lost.
Classical music enthusiasts may get something out of Mozart’s Sister. For everyone else, your money is better spent in Vegas and your time better spent watching your friend’s home movies.
Mozart’s Sister is now playing at the Landmark Ken Cinema.
A Music Box Films release. Director: Réne Féret. Screenplay: René Féret. Original Music: Marie-Jeanne Serrero. Cinematography: Benjamîn Echazarreta. Cast: Marie Féret, Marc Barbé, Delphine Chuillot, David Moreau, and Le Dauphin. 120 minutes. Unrated.