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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Wilmington on DVD: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One, Mozart's Sister, The Conformist

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One (C)
U.S.: Bill Condon, 2011, Summit Distribution

You'd think that the eagerly awaited marriage of Bella Swan (as played by Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (as played by Robert Pattinson) of the Twilight movie saga would solve some of that series' sex and repression issues. But no such bloody luck.

It turns out here that sex is not the cure-all many of us were raised and TV-bred to think, or that it often becomes in the average Hollywood movie. The Cullens' posh Rio de Janiero honeymoon suite keeps getting torn and hacked to shreds every morning after, to the distress of the honeymooners and the consternation of the help. And there's even a pregnancy -- perhaps even more problematic than Mia Farrow's in Rosemary's Baby. But, instead of wedded bliss, the world's favorite human-vamp couple are plunged into more high-grossing gloom and distress.

Bella is pregnant and sick. Edward is distraught. The Cullen family, including Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Peter Facinelli) is concerned. Bella's dad, Charlie the cop (Billy Burke), is bewildered. And Jacob the pec-man (Taylor Lautner) gets angry again -- perhaps because he thinks he should have taken over the movies by now. Meanwhile, the big, bad werewolves race and bound through the woods, and the vampires gather in covens, and the crowds line up at the multiplexes, and the critics sharpen their knives and.... Gee, why can't they all just let these two kids have a high old sexy time in Rio?

But no. Breaking Dawn - Part One, the latest chunk of the Twilight Saga -- set in a world where handsome vampires and sexy werewolves pursue repressed young teenage girls through the hills and forests of Forks, Washington -- continues the series' obsession with the love that dare not show its face and lovers who seem trapped in an old Production Code.

From the beginning, and all the way through her books Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and now Breaking Dawn (Part One, at least), novelist Stephenie Meyer has hewed to the rules of the teen or young adults book game and kept onstage sex out of the stories, even though the movie stories are mostly about sex or the consequences of sex, about the difficulties of vampire and humans making love (without therapy), and of werewolves and vampires getting along, or werewolves and humans getting it on.

Instead, the main characters of Twilight's four installments -- nervously romantic teen Bella, broodingly romantic heart-throb vampire Edward, and sneeringly romantic wolf guy Jacob Black -- mostly stare longingly at each other, plunge into melancholy and wait for ecstasy, while other more evil vampires (like Michael Sheen) are up to sinister tricks elsewhere, and werewolves prowl the Washington woods. The movies can't do anything much about it, because novelist Meyer and her adaptors -- constant screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, and, here, new director Bill Condon -- stay steeped in that skittishness about sexuality. (It seems odd at times that this movie was directed by a man who made a movie about the Kinsey Report.)

Kristen Stewart and Pattinson and Lautner act about like they did in the other movies, which means passably okay, as long as you're not looking for Tracy and Hepburn (or even for Seth Rogen and Kristin Wiig). Stewart and Pattinson don't rise above the material, but they don't sink beneath it either. The best acting in the movie comes from Anna Kendrick as Bella's snappy schoolmate Jessica, delivering a sarcastic little wedding party speech that sounds as if Kendrick made it up on the spot. (Maybe she did.)

It's still near-monosyllabic, flavorless, colorless soap opera stuff. And it's almost anti-literary, anti-character too -- even though Meyer has said that her four Twilight books were modeled on such favorite novels or plays of hers as Pride and Prejudice for Twilight, Romeo and Juliet for New Moon, Wuthering Heights for Eclipse and A Midsummer Night's Dream for Breaking Dawn. What, no Anna Karenina? No Middlemarch? No A Streetcar Named Desire? ("Bella! Bella! Bella!" "I have always depended on the kindness of vampires....")

Bill Condon of Gods and Monsters and Dreamgirls, as well as Kinsey, is the new director, succeeding Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz and David Slade. The movie, despite its hollow dialogue and sometimes punishing slow pace, does look sort of good. (Guillermo Navarro shot it.) The legions of Twilight fans won't want it any different, of course. And I'm sure there are worse things you could be doing with your time. Reading the books, maybe. Or drinking blood. (Extras: documentary; commentary by Bill Condon; wedding video.)

Mozart's Sister (A-)
France: Rene Feret, 2010, Music Box

Mozart's Sister, a splendidly produced period film by French writer-director Rene Feret, is the fictionalized semi-biographical tale of a remarkable girl, her extraordinary family and of the beautiful music they all made together. It's often lovely to see and hear, but it's also a very sad story, as stories about great artists -- and great artists-who-could-have-been -- sometimes are. The girl's name was Maria Anna Mozart, or "Nannerl" for short.

She, of course, was Mozart's sister, and if you felt or wept for her brother for his sometimes sad life and premature death and the irony of his incredible posthumous fame and stature, you may weep for her as well -- for her long life, for her lost chances, and for the obliteration of her art and music.

The movie begins lyrically, with a scene that recalls the openings of both Bergman's The Magician and Max Ophuls' Lola Montes: the Mozart family traveling to an engagement in a nearly broken down coach through the woods. When it does break down, we're made painfully aware of how vulnerable their existence really is, the dilemma of many artists. We see how dependent Leopold Mozart (Marc Barbe) and Frau Mozart (Delphine Chuillot) are on his patrons, and on his patrons' world and its rules and proprieties. When the family stops at an abbey after the breakdown, accepting the hospitality of the nuns, Nannerl meets the royal daughters, who are sequestered there, and Louise de France (Lisa Feret) -- a seraphic imp -- immediately appoints herself Nannerl's special friend. That leads later to the addition of Nannerl's "romance" with the Dauphin (Clovis Fouin), who seemingly loves Nannerl and her music, and hates his sybaritic father, the king.

Now, everyone knows, or should, that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart -- who was playing keyboards at four, and composing music at five, and had become one of the greatest composers of all time by the time of his death at 36 -- was one of the miracles of the history of classical music.

But what about Nannerl, so splendidly played in this movie, with such poise, grace and intelligence, by director Feret's daughter Marie Feret?

Five years older than her brother, Nannerl was a prodigy too. She played harpsichord at seven and was Wolfgang's accompanist through much of his career as a child musical phenomenon. And Wolfgang (played here by the notable cute little David Moreau) adored both Nannerl and her music. She was his childhood best friend and model, and they invented a little magic, imaginary play-world, of which they were king and queen, called the Kingdom of Back.

What happened to her? The movie, which is a fictionalization of Maria Anna's life, tells some truth, mixes it with fancy. The truth largely revolves around the film's portrayal of her warm relationship with her genius brother, and with her mother Anna Maria (Delphine Chuillot), and the more painful but powerful bond with her composer/musician/teacher father Leopold (done superbly by Marc Barbe), who dominated her life. (She never left him, though Wolfgang broke away, and she probably should have.)

The fiction mostly comes from an imagined relationship between Nannerl and two members of the French royal family: a wondrous sympathetic friendship with little Louise de France (adorably played by Lisa) and that brutal imagined romance between Nannerl and the Dauphin of France -- whom Fouin turns into something suggesting a Joaquin Phoenix interpretation of a French Norman Bates.

I'm not sure how I feel about those additions -- but little Lisa Feret as so marvelous as Louise, Nannerl's small but powerful friend, that she almost tips the balance by herself. Lisa owes a lot to her father, of course; they all do. Feret truns Mozart's Sister into the kind of elegant costume drama that has been the sometime glory of French cinema (and Hollywood's as well), especially when a artist like Max Ophuls, Jacques Feyder or Jean-Paul Rappeneau is at the helm. Feret, an actor and director whose better-known films include The Mystery of Alexina, is a superior visual stylist, not quite in the Ophuls row, but at least in the balcony. He's very good with actors, especially with his children. (Being a fine teacher is one quality he shares with Leopold Mozart.)

Marie Feret holds the screen beautifully as Nannerl, expertly miming the music and movingly conveying the girl's sweetness, artistry and quietude. If Lisa Feret delights us as Louise, Marie wins our hearts as Nannerl. And father Rene is on the screen as well, playing (what else?) a music professor.

And the real Nannerl, what of her? Why aren't we listening to her Piano Concerto, or her Vespers, or her piano sonatas, or comic operas?

Well, as Mozart's Sister partly tells us, she was maybe too much of a prodigy, and definitely an artist in the wrong place and time. It was the 1760s, in Salzburg. She was a female, and when she turned 18, and became of marriageable age, Leopold considered further musical pursuits unsuitable. He retired his daughter, so that she could find a good husband and start having children. He also rejected her personal love choice, a teacher named Franz d'Ippold, and chose for her instead a wealthy magistrate with children of his own, named Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zo Sonnenburg. I'm sure that her husband's name gives a good hint of what he was like and of what her married life was like too.

In any case, she had more children, devoted herself to preserving her brother's music and memory, and died at 78, long after him. That's the story Mozart's Sister doesn't quite tell, except in the end titles.

The movie suggests that Nannerl died poor, while other sources insist she was not impoverished, but was ill and unhappy. To be really happy though, she simply had to remember her youth. Despite the broken coaches and the endless lessons, how many other children had such a wondrous childhood? In French, with English subtitles.

The Conformist (A)
Italian: Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970, Arrow Video

Is Bernardo Bertolucci's 1970 The Conformist -- an art film classic regarded by many cinematographers as the most beautifully photographed movie of its era -- also a film noir? Or a neo-noir?

Well, it's a movie about those old noir standbys: sex and murder and betrayal, guilt and romance and political/police corruption. Adapted from the novel by Alberto Moravia, it has a psychologically divided and tormented central character, Marcello Clerici (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant of Z and A Man and a Woman), who is racked by Freudian desires and guilty secrets. As a youngster, the deceptively opaque-faced Marcello had homosexual leanings, which he tried to wipe out in adulthood, by marrying and becoming a good reliable government man -- which in Italy, in the 1930s, meant being a good fascist.

Marcello is also involved in a messy triangle with his lovely, naive wife Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) and with the incredibly beautiful bisexual Anna Quadri (Dominique Sanda). In 1970, because of this movie, the ravishing blonde Sanda was often described as the most beautiful actress in movies -- even though another French film blonde, Catherine Deneuve, was still in her youthful prime -- and Sanda was also Bertolucci's first choice to be Marlon Brando's co-star in Last Tango in Paris. (She chose motherhood at that time instead.) The Conformist, though, made her a movie immortal. Sanda's feverish onscreen tango with Sandrelli against an iridescent, ravishingly colored background, while Marcello watches, is one of the most justly famous erotic musical set-pieces in all of the cinema. If that scene doesn't make you hot, you may be comatose.

Bertolucci later went on to make celebrated and even notorious classics like The Last Emperor and Last Tango in Paris, but many aficionados still prefer The Conformist for its engrossing story, for the savvy political background, for the absolutely gorgeous Storaro cinematography (the color equivalent of a great noir black-and-white job), and for the riveting performances by Sanda, Trintignant, Sandrelli, Pierre Clementi, Yvonne Sanson and the others. In Italian with English subtitles.

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