Mozart’s Sister (Nannerl, La Soeur de Mozart) Reivew

This wasn’t on my original list of movies I wanted to see, but I saw a trailer for it during one of the other movies I went to see, and I really wanted to see it.

It follows the travels of the Mozart family – the most famous being Wolfgang Mozart, child prodigy performer and composer, but the story focuses on his older sister, a talented performer in her own right, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl) Mozart, who is quite close to her brother, and during the movie, they compose music together. The Mozart family travel around Europe performing for various noble people. In this fictional story, Nannerl dresses as a boy to deliver a letter on behalf of her friend Princess Louise of France, and meets the recently-widowed Dauphin (Prince of France). Her musical ability enchants him, and he commissions her to compose something for him.

Nannerl’s father is against the idea of her playing the violin or composing music, as he sees those things as unsuitable for women. He calls her music a “mess of notes lumped together”, though in private, he does tell his wife he thinks she has talent. Nannerl finishes her song in private, and the Dauphin is enchanted once again, inviting her to meet him for a private audience. During this second meeting, she reveals that she is actually a girl, and he asks her to get changed into her normal clothes, and spend the afternoon with him as a girl.

Nannerl’s parents are not happy that she spent the night out alone instead of rehearsing for their performance, even if it was with the Dauphin. After they perform for the royal court, they set off for Vienna and Nannerl writes to the Dauphin saying she’s sorry she can’t say goodbye. However, during the journey, Nannerl asks her mother if she can continue to work in Paris, saying she can make a living teaching music. She feels that Wolfgang can draw in crowds without her, and that she is becoming a burden on her father.

On her return to Paris, she receives a letter from the Dauphin asking her to write another piece of music. She tries to get into music school, but is ridiculed, saying she would be better off going to the painting faculty and becoming a model instead. So she dresses as a boy once again, and attends classes. She sends her latest piece to the Dauphin, who once again asks her to meet. He surprises her by having the royal orchestra play her music, and allowing her the opportunity to play with them. He further surprises her by introducing her to his new fiancée, at which Nannerl is understandably upset. He later writes her a letter saying he doesn’t love his new fiancée, and that he is only marrying her because his father says it must be so. He says that even though he loves her, he doesn’t want the same reputation his father has, of sleeping with lots of women outside his marriage.

He invites Nannerl to meet again, though requests that she dresses as a boy. He has her play the harpsichord as he talks to his fiancée on the bed. He then kicks the fiancée out, and has Nannerl kiss him. Then he grows angry at her for being the devil and seducing him, and kicks her out, too.

Nannerl goes to join her family once more. The movie ends saying that she never composed another piece of music again, and ended up marrying a man who already had five children, because her father wanted her to. Her first son was given to her father, who tried to train him as another prodigy, but failed. She died poor, blind and alone, with her life’s mission being to collate the works of her brother.

Wikipedia disputes the last part, saying that she was frugal, not poor, though it does say that while there have been references to her compositions in letters between her and Wolfgang, none of them have survived.

It has been a while since a movie has had such an emotional impact on me. I don’t know if I’m still reeling from the blow of Grad Daniel leaving, but I walked out of the movie feeling really sad. I guess at the time, it was a normal thing for women to be told that they can’t do something just because they’re a woman, so watching it from the perspective of someone in today’s world makes it feel a bit bizarre. But the movie quickly transports you into the 1763, and while you can see Nannerl’s frustration, you begin to understand why she’s so powerless. Despite this, she really does try, and you were rooting for her the entire time. I liked that unlike the typical girl dresses as a boy movies, she never set out to purposely deceive. The only reason she dressed as a boy in the first place was because she needed to deliver a letter for her friend and unknown women weren’t allowed in the presence of the Dauphin.

She was quite quick to confess, rather than try to pull off the whole being in two places at one time thing – the reason she confessed was because the Dauphin invited her to see a “talented young musical prodigy and his sister with a divine singing voice”, and she told him that she was the sister.

Luther told me that a lot of movies try to go for the punch-in-the-guts sad ending, as it’s the cheapest and easiest way to have an emotional impact on your audience. While this movie did have that at the end, I think the part that was touching about it was seeing Nannerl grow and fall in love during the movie. It wasn’t one of those “we meet and now we’re desperately in love, nothing can separate us” kind of loves, you could see her being happy to see him, and seeing that he was happy to see her. Even though they barely had any screentime together, you could see her pining for him through her music, while also seeing her want to break free of the confines of being a girl.

I really enjoyed the movie. The music was lovely, and I don’t really care about costumes or scenery, but it was also nice, with some of it actually being filmed in the Palace of Versailles. Even though it sort of made Wolfgang out to be the bad guy, in the sense that Nannerl was always in his shadow, it really didn’t feel like that. You could tell that she loved him, and while she was frustrated, she ultimately knew that it wasn’t his fault that things were the way that they were.

In terms of watching this to practice French, I understood a surprising amount of this movie. Not nearly enough to watch without the subtitles, but there were a lot of words and sentences that I recognised. It was a little hard, because the characters spoke so quickly – or at least they spoke at what I assume is a normal speed, but I could process the words after the fact, which meant I was always a little behind, and when I got too far behind, I just went back to reading the subtitles only.

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