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Friday, July 23, 2010

Movie Review: Bride of the Wind

Jonathan Pryce as Gustav Mahler,
and Sarah Wynter as Alma.

This fascinating, overlooked 2001 film by Australian director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) focuses on the life of Alma Mahler Gropius, wife and widow of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. Sarah Wynter, an Australian actress, plays the lead role. In her hands, Alma is pure fire and ice, a Viennese answer to Princess Turandot without the body count.

Alma Mahler Gropius was a woman whose presence in the lives of Viennese painters and composers connects them together in a web of intrigue. She was married to Mahler until his death, the architect Walter Gropius, and finally, the writer Franz Werfel. The movie juggles these relationships, and also focuses on her time in the arms of Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschca, played with fire by Victor Perez. The latter's painting, "Bride of the Wind", depicts Oskar and Alma entwined, and provides the movie's title.

Although the primary focus of Mr. Beresford's film is on Alma and her life, Mahler remains a towering presence. Jonathan Pryce is pitch-perfect as the occasionally cold, sometimes domineering, but always brilliant composer. His relationship with Alma begins with an argument about his music, and as they enter into marriage, the movie follows his career with especial focus on the Third, Fifth and Eighth Symphonies. When tragedy strikes (their second daughter dies, Mahler loses his job with the Vienna Philharmonic, Alma cheats on him, and he is diagnosed with a heart defect) Pryce seems to disintegrate before the camera. It is an extraordinary portrait, worthy of its own film.
Bride of the Wind by Oskar Kokoschka

Victor Perez gives a compelling performance as Oskar, pulling the viewer along on his descent into post-war madness. Simon Verhoeven aristocratic and icy as Walter Gropius. Finally, Gregor Seberg provides welcome warmth as Franz Werfel. Beresford's camera-work and shot selection are impeccable. This is a gorgeous movie to look at with authentic Viennese locations and Mahler's composing hut on Lake Steinbach.

A key plot point of Bride of the Wind is Alma's own neglected music. She was a composer herself, and the movie makes the point (somewhat belaboredly) that she gave up her own art songs to support Mahler as a full time wife and mother of his children. The film ends with her art songs being performed in a recital (by a heavily made-up Renée Fleming) and acceptance of her work. As an introduction to the life and works of Mahler and the hothouse atmosphere of early 20th century Vienna, Bride of the Wind is worth seeking out.

© 2001 Paramount Pictures.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.