15-year-old Marie Feret plays Nannerl Mozart the elder sister to Wolfgang in her father Rene’s Mozart’s Sister opening this week in the US. A prodigy in her own right, she was trained by her father in the same way that he would later train her brother. Nannerl composed on her own and actually helped her brother with his early compositions. But because girls were not allowed to play at court when they reached a certain age and also for a plethora of sexist issues, Nannerl had to abandon her ambition to become a successful musician. There were just too many obstacles and no one to support her. Very sad story of another woman not allowed to succeed because of her gender. These stories are strewn throughout history.
Marie answered some questions (by email) about the film:
Women and Hollywood: This film is clearly a family affair. What was it like working with you dad as the director/writer and your sister as an actress?
Marie Feret: First of all, there was not only my father and my sister on the shoot but my mother, Fabienne Féret, edited and produced the film and my brother Julien is my father’s first assistant, and his daughter, Léone, has a small part in the film. So that makes five members of my family working with me. Working with my father is quite reassuring, because he knows me well, and he knows what to tell me to help me act well. Working with my sister was not as easy because as when we were a little younger, we used to argue a lot between the shots but then we had to act as if we were very fond of each other. It was a funny situation. My mother and my brother were often on the set so their presence helped me to feel well and speaking with them helped me to relax when there was tension on the shoot.
WaH: As a girl growing up in France today how were you able to relate to Nannerl who grew up in such different times. And do you think if Nannerl were alive today she would be as big a star as her brother?
MF: The costumes, the makeup and the haircut helped me a lot to relate to Nannerl — it was as if I had some kind of a mask in front of me, and I didn’t feel I was Marie anymore. I’m not sure Nannerl would be a big star today as a young girl I mean, even her eleven-year-old brother might not be. I say that because on Youtube now, we can see lots of young children playing music. His talent might be less impressive than before. And as I was told on the shoot, the composers could never really listen to their work, because the people who played music very well — I mean professionals — weren’t very numerous. In an orchestra, even at court, there were many amateurs. So when the musicians weren’t very good, a young boy like Mozart was very impressive — more than he would be today. But he would still be a genius of course.
WaH: Were you frustrated to learn how Nannerl’s talent was just dismissed because she was a girl?
MF: I didn’t feel frustration, but I’m sure she did! It is so unfair, because before Wolfgang was born, Leopold (her father) taught her a lot of music, even the violin, which she couldn’t play anymore as she got older. When the father discovered his son’s talent, he preferred to teach him music instead of Nannerl. She must have been very unhappy at that time.
WaH: SPOILER I was very shocked to read about what happened to Nannerl. It seems like such a waste. What are your thoughts on how her life turned out?
MF: As you said, I think too her life was a waste, because the only thing that stopped her talent was the period when she lived in. At that time, young women weren’t allowed to play the violin or to compose, it was indecent. I think we “lost” the important work she could have created.
WaH: What was the most challenging part in making this film?
MF: The most challenging part of the film was the music. Before the beginning of the project, I had never touched a violin, so for one year before the shooting began, I took violin lessons almost every week with different coaches in order to learn how to pretend I was playing the violin for real. Then I saw a singing coach too. On the shoot, we put the playback on and the coach was in front of me, showing me what I was supposed to do to pretend I am singing. It was a very interesting experience, and now, I still am playing the violin every day and I’ve continued to take lessons, just for me to have fun, because I love this instrument and classical music.
WaH: What’s next for you?
MF: I am sure I don’t want to be an actress when I get older. I’ve got many reasons. First of all it is a very hard job, you need to have a psychological well-being every day, and, as I know many young actors now, I can see how it is difficult to get work. To be involved in a film, you wait for your phone to ring. You never know if you will have a part this year. But since the eighth of August, we are on a shoot, with my father directing once more. I have the lead part, and it is a novel adaptation. The shooting ends the first of October.