Directed by French filmmaker René Féret, edited by his wife Fabienne and starring two of his own daughters in central roles, 2010 period drama/biopic Mozart’s Daughter is very much a family affair in every sense. The film documents the young life of Maria Anna Mozart (Marie Féret) – nicknamed Nannerl by those closest to her – the older sister of the renowned German composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and purposes to reveal the hidden life of this shy, tragically overlooked musical talent.
Originally the featured performer, Nannerl has become a glorified support act to her younger sibling – and child prodigy – Wolfgang, as their strict, wildly ambitious father Leopold (Marc Barbé) tours his talented offspring in front of the royal courts of pre-French revolution Europe. Approaching marriageable age and forbidden by Leopold to play the violin or compose unless it is beneficial to Wolfgang, Nannerl becomes shackled by the limitations imposed on her gender. However, a blossoming friendship between herself and both the son and daughter of decadent French king Louis XV offers Nannerl the opportunity to challenge the established sexual and social order of the age.
Though commendable for its low budget and indie sensibilities, there’s a distinct lack of spectacle in this Féret foray. Production design is stripped back to the bare minimum (period dress, a few attractive interiors), and a great deal of Mozart’s Daughter’s key moments take place in darkened chambers, mostly consisting of the odd hushed whisper. Secrecy and the concealment of identity are central throughout, yet despite Féret’s daughter Marie appearing well-suited to the role of Nannerl, we gain little revelatory insight into a life still largely shrouded in mystery and rumour.
A fairly intriguing romantic association with Louis, the handsome young Dauphin of France (Clovis Fouin), threatens to ignite the film’s often laborious narrative, but is swiftly extinguished – ultimately casting out the last rays of hope that Nannerl could aspire to be anything more than her brother’s sister. As the 11-year-old bewigged Mozart bewitches the French courts with his astounding musical prowess, his sister is forced back into the shadows, destined to live out a life of subjugation to Wolfgang and their constrictive, demanding father Leopold.
Despite its initial potential, Mozart’s Sister fails to rouse, partly due to its unfortunately meagre budget and also the humdrum screenplay, pieced together from Maria Anna’s genuine letters to her friend and pious confident Louise de France (Lisa Féret). Ultimately, Féret’s period drama feels a little too slight and inconsequential, far from the definitive treatment of one of history’s greatest musical also-rans.