Sunday, August 14, 2011

René Féret's MOZART'S SISTER casts a sidelong glance at the "genius" but looks full-face at his sibling; Q&A with filmmaker

Watching a second time René Féret's unusually thoughtful and moving film about Nannerl, the young girl who was MOZART'S SISTER, I was reminded once again of its beauty and subtlety. And how it takes a story of its time, centuries past, and makes it resonate in our own. Féret's film is beautiful and highly accomplished in its own quite striking and original manner. As much as I loved Forman's Amadeus, this new work is equally important for its look at the lives of the women of that time.

The filmmaker, shown at left, captures not just the look and feel of the particular century (when a new bathroom fixture provoked the same sense of wonder as does the alien Paul on his earthling companions) but manages this in a manner that seems intellectually and emotionally on the mark. Féret's choice of incident and detail helps captures our mind and heart, and his insistence on making us understand how the world worked in those long-ago days is bracing and clearly relevant to our own time. Below is what I had to say about the film when it was shown last March during the FSLC's yearly Rendez-vous with French Cinema. My second viewing only strengthened my judgment and increased my pleasure....

So where have you been all our movie-going life, M. Féret? As Mozart's Sister is the gentleman's 15th film, he's clearly been here, doing his own thing and going his own way since -- according to the IMDB -- his first film in 1975, writing and directing (and often produ-cing, too). His new movie, already picked-up for U.S. distribution by Music Box Films, will probably start a small stampede toward his older work. Meanwhile see this one, which tells the tale of a very young composer (how young, we don't exactly know, because his dad lies about the kid's age to make him seem even more of a genius), as the Mozart family (above) -- left to right: mom, dad, Wolfie and sis -- travel Europe trying to make money and waves.

The movie posits that perhaps sister Nannerl (played by the director's daughter, Marie Féret, above, who makes a very good case for nepotism) possessed a certain genius, too -- though because she was female, few would ever see it nor would she be allowed to develop it. Excelling on the violin, she is not allowed to play because "this is not an instrument for a woman." The film is resolutely feminist but never blows its whistle too heavily. No need: All is built into the times (the mid-1700s).

As it travels, the family must take refuge in a convent where, it turns out, some lesser lights of the royal family (girls, doncha know) now reside, and Nannerl becomes fast friends with one of them (fetchingly played by another of the director's daughters, Lisa Féret, above left). This leads to the family's trip to Versailles, meeting royalty, playing for them and -- all that follows.

Féret develops the strands of his story quite well, enveloping us in the characters of the four family members (plus that sad, cloistered friend) and the complicated Dauphin (a splendid performance from Clovis Fouin, above), and in the politics and mores of the time. I can't vouch for you, but for me the film's climax and high point came well before its finish: when Nannerl leads the small orchestra and plays solo violin in her own composition. As the music rises and swells -- a brilliant job by Mare-Jeanne Séréro of composing original music that adheres to its period and to what we might expect from another Mozart -- it seems as though everything good is actually possible in this wretched world of ours, and that any of us might be capable of it.

Mozart's Sister, from Music Box Films and running two hours, open this Friday in New York City at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and the Cinema Village, and in Santa Fe, NM; and in California in Encino, Pasadena, West L.A. and Santa Ana. Click here to see playdates, cities and theaters -- now and in the weeks and months to come.


We met with René Féret (shown again, below) and his small entourage, in a suite at one of Manhattan's boutique hotels off Columbus Circle last March when his film made its New York debut.  He was an unusually warm and humorous fellow, as were those with him, including a translator, whom he needed mostly for the occasional idiom I tossed into the mix. In the following Q&A, TrustMovies appears in boldface and M.Féret in standard type.

We’re talking to René Féret (no, it is not like the animal, which is spelled with two “r”s), pronounced Fair-ray, with the accent on the second syllable. M. Féret: I liked you movie very much, but I can’t understand why I have not known of your work until now

(He laughs) . Ah, yes! I am, as a filmmaker, the most “known unknown”!

Indeed. Fifteen films are what I find on the IMDB. So then, could we say that this new film is rather like your "breakthrough"?

Breakthrough? (His translator translates the idiom for him He shakes his head.) Not really.

Not even in this country? Because we have not had other of your films released here. Or have we? I had not realized this, at least.

Well, two of my films have come here. But 30 years ago, when I had a film, La communion solennelle, which was in competition in Cannes in ’77 (Editor’s note: it was nominated for the Cannes Palme d’Or) and it was released here. Then 20 years ago, I make The Mystery of Alexina, the story of a hermaphrodite. Someone gave me the memoir, and from that I make the film.

Are these available on DVD?

Yes, yes!

Great -- Here in this USA?

No. But in France.

I would love to see them.

I will send you a copy.

With English subtitles?


I would love that -- how wonderful!

I have had 13 films released in France. And now three of them here. And I have a web site, too:

Well: I LOVED Mozart’s Sister. It was like opening up all sorts of wonderful new things for me. I thought of Barry Lyndon a bit while watching it, for it had some of the same sense of truly taking you to a place you have not been. But taking you there truthfully. Giving you the emotional truth. And in the correct time frame. Which you don’t always get from costume drama. I particularly like the two stories: Nannerl’s, and the young royal girl with whom she becomes friends. And I loved the relationship with the Dauphin. That character, whenever he’s seen in films, is always a little crazy. (The group laughs) And he probably was crazy. That’s my own feeling about royalty: People who are pampered from birth are always crazy. How can they not be? But he was wonderfully crazy (they laugh again). But he was also kind and interested and generous and actually curious about things. But then toward the end, the craziness comes back out in his treatment of Nannerl – expecting that she would do anything he wanted because, after all, he was royalty.

Yes, yes!

And the actor who play this does such a fine job: Clovis Fouin. I Once knew a young boy named Fouin: Julian Fouin who came to stay with us for a time in New York City. I wondered if they might be related. But I guess Fouin is a common name?

Not really. It means “hay.”

Hay – as in what horses eat?


That’s great. Your actors were all so well cast and so very good. And the feminism of the film comes out well, too -- without being overly pushy. It’s just done a la the time period. That wonderful scene in which she gets to play the violin and conduct the small orchestra: For me that was the real climax of the film. I don’t know whether you see that as the climax...?

With the orchestra? Yes.

That scene made me feel such joy. I haven’t felt that much joy in a film in a long time. The other wonderful thing was the music. And it was created originally for this film, right?

Yes. We decided not to take any of the music of Mozart. It is too known. So all the music is original. Except when she sings. And when she sings with the Dauphin. Because those had to be more "known" songs.

What set you off to make this film?

I was reading, for a time, all the letters than Mozart’s father actually wrote. For three years, he wrote all the time, especially letters to his landlord, so many letters everywhere, describing the money problems the family had. These letters filled the landlord in about so much that was going on in the family’s life. There I discovered Nannerl, and that she was a kind of prodigy.

So you did not invent that part. She was definitely part of the family’s history. Did Nanerele actually want to play the violin?

I don't know that. That was my invention. But in that time, the violin was forbidden to women.

I wonder why? (They shrug, and do so do I.) Did you see The Page Turner, perhaps? (They nod, yes.) From that film I can understand why the cello or double bass might have been forbidden to woman. (They laugh.) But not the violin. So these letters from Mozart’s father set you off?

Yes, and after that, I decided to make a fiction about the family but with real characters.

Did the Dauphin go on to become Louis XVI?

No: he was the father of Louis XVI and the son of Louis XV.

So he never became king?

No. He died too young.

Ah. You see: I don’t know my French history. But this is how I get it – from you and other filmmakers! (They laugh some more. This is an easy crew to entertain!) What did your film cost to make?

It was pretty cheap.

It didn’t look cheap.

Perhaps one million Euros…?

Wow. That would be... two million dollars?

Oh, no! The Euro is not worth that amount any longer.

Oh—it’s come down that much?


What do you think is going to happen with the Euro? Will all the countries continue to keep using it? No matter what?

No state has really proposed going back to its individual currency. And it has already cost them all so much to change over....

To become part of the European Union, of course. Back to your film: I am so glad it is being released here. And by Music Box Films – which is really an up-and-coming company. They seem to grab so many good foreign films these days. And they have a good mix of commercial stuff like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and its series, along with movies with that are more artistic and challenging. Do you have anything planned for your next project?

Yes I have something. Do you know Madame Solario?

Madame Solario -- the title rings a bell but not the author.

It is Anonymous – written in around 1958. It was a big success in its time: a best-seller by a woman who has remained anonymous. It is set in around 1905 on Lake Como.

Oh, pre-WWI.

It is very ambiguous (or did he say "ambitious"? I’ve listened to my recording several times and am still not sure…), and takes place in a big hotel, it is very delicate and very interesting.

When you do you think this one will be finished – I mean shot and ready for release?

I will shoot it in the summer, and it will be ready by March of next year.

Wow. That seems quite quick. But this will be your 16th films, so you sort of know how long things will take..

Yes. I know the music.

The music…?

It is an expression, as, uh …

Oh, like we might say. “I know the routine.”

Yes, exactly!

(The PR person alerts us that time is up, so we shake hands and embrace.) Thank you so much M. Féret. I wish you very good success with Mozart’s Sister here in the US -- and for Madame Solario – internationally.

1 comment:

flowwalker said...

Thank you for the wonderful review. I love your sensibility, and you asked the questions I would have liked to ask, and validated the director as I would have. Wonderful! I look forward to seeing this movie and telling others about it.