Musically Gifted Young Woman Suffers Tragedy and Injustice in "Mozart's Sister"

In heavily outlining the tragedies and injustices that befell the musically gifted older sister of Wolfgang "Amadeus," writer/director René Féret underplays the most interesting elements in this story of Maria Anna "Nannerl" Mozart. Forced by their father to tour under hellish circumstances, young Wolfgang and Nannerl traverse Europe year-round, performing recitals for aristocrats who often stiff them. But the real humiliation occurs when teenaged Nannerl, forbidden by her father from writing her own music, is reduced to accompanist for her baby brother; women simply are not composers or serious musicians. The father's edict sets the course for Nannerl's bitter life, most of which is told in postscript. But before we get there, the turgid film's margins contain a young princess turned nun whose friendliness with Nannerl carries more than a whiff of the Sapphic; and a tortured, married young nobleman who has Nannerl cross-dress so they can meet without arousing suspicion. These subplots hint at what could have been, nudging the film toward biting rather than obvious commentary on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and creativity and the costs of thwarting expression of any of them. But Féret barely explores this, and the film suffers for it.

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