'Mozart's Sister': A musical prodigy overshadowed by her brother

Doomed by gender, and by the showier talents of her younger brother, Maria Anna "Nannerl" Mozart was a prodigy herself: composing complex sonatas in her teens, playing the harpsichord with preternatural grace, gifted with a voice like a choir of angels.

But then along comes little Wolfgang, and the attention - and relentless promotion, by the children's father - pivot to the boy. Here was this longhaired pipsqueak, working the violin like a master, writing sheaves of stunning music. Never mind that Nannerl aided in the compositions, or perhaps even wrote them herself. In patriarchal 18th-century Europe, the boy was an easier sell.

And thus the premise for Mozart's Sister, René Feret's lovely period piece in which the itinerant Mozart clan - Nannerl (Marie Féret, the director's daughter), Wolfgang (David Moreau), parents Leopold (Marc Barbé) and Anna-Marie (Delphine Chuillot) - wander through France, stopping to play for the noble set. There are long walks down palatial corridors, the rustle of silk gowns and clack of fancy shoes, as Wolfgang and Nannerl are led to candlelit music rooms to perform.

And there are long, cold rides in coaches, as the Mozarts go from chateau to chateau, finally - by the chance of a broken carriage axle - setting on an abbey where Louis XV's daughter resides. Louise of France (Lisa Féret) and Nannerl hit it off, and before she knows it the 14-year-old from Salzburg is carrying secret letters to Louise's brother, the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin), and then carrying on a strange, albeit abbreviated, emotional affair. The Mozarts have gained entry to Versailles, to the court of the royals.

A crushingly sad tale about art and ambition, family loyalty and love, Mozart's Sister doesn't claim to be historically accurate at every step. But writer/director Féret has thrown himself into the world of pre-Revolutionary France, and done his homework, and found a naturally gifted actress in his own daughter.

The music, of course, resonates. And so does this exquisite heartbreaker of a story.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/


Mozart's Sister (Nannerl, la Soeur de Mozart)

Directed by René Féret. With David Moreau, Marie Féret, Clovis Fouin, Delphine Chuillot, Marc Barbé. Distributed by Music Box Films.

Running time: 2 hours, 0 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().