Any movie that can make iconic historical figures feel like believable and intricate human beings is, as far as I’m concerned, a magnificent achievement. Mozart’s Sister goes fishing in dangerous waters. Biographical films about artists in particular generally don’t enjoy friendly rivalries—for any one specific figure, there might be several different films made about his life. But the norm stands that one ranks far superior to the rest of the lot, either in artistic integrity, or simply in popularity. The idea of Mozart in film is more or less dominated by Milos Forman’s 1984 Best Picture winner Amadeus. Both films focus not so much on Mozart himself, but on a musical prodigy overshadowed by the man despite superior genius and talent.
Taking all this into consideration, you’d think Mozart’s Sister a risky maneuver. But what it does, it does with exceptional beauty. The film takes a perspective far less grand than that of Amadeus—in fact, we aren’t meant to feel overpowered by Mozart, but perhaps even pitying of him. As expressed by the title, the real star of the picture is Mozart’s older sister, who is his superior in musical creation but is chastised for practicing and composing due to her gender. Instead of keeping these two central figures on the pedestal that their notoriety lends, director René Féret presents a story of an authentic family. Marie Féret manages both unparalleled genius and insecure and jealous teen girl as Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart. Her family is at once fractured and capable of love and warmth. There are no “heroes” or “villains.” Each of the figures on screen feels like a genuine human being, and in a story about legendary folk, this is an impressive feat, as well as a truly effective means of conveying the hardships of the characters’ emotional struggles.
While the acting and script are nearly perfect, the one flaw I’d have to point out would be production value. Perhaps the filmmaker was simply staying within his means to tell this immaculate tale. But occasionally, the shaky camera and the “reality show” aesthetics of the film are a bit distracting. However, hardly enough to detract from the wonder of Mozart’s Sister as a whole.
Mozart’s Sister comes out on DVD February 14.