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MELISSA BLOCK, host: Something about the life of Mozart seems to inspire dramatists to make things up. First, there was "Amadeus," a play, then a movie that imagines Mozart tormented and ultimately destroyed by a rival composer.

And now, a new French film suggests that, at an early age, he had another very different kind of rival. Bob Mondello reviews "Mozart's Sister."

BOB MONDELLO: Imagine that your little brother took up music because he admired you, then took over your spot as the family prodigy when you were both still very young and you were reduced to being his accompanist when he did concerts for royalty all over Europe. A recipe for filial disaster, no?

Except the Mozart kids, 15-year-old Nannerl and 11-year-old Wolfgang, adored each other.


MONDELLO: We meet them as they're traveling from one grand estate to another, playing for their supper. Dad walks in the snow while the kids amuse themselves inside the carriage, at one point, by playing violin duets.

But Nannerl's not allowed to play violin. It's a boy's instrument, says Dad.


MONDELLO: Dad has lots of rules, most of which seem to favor little Wolfie. Nannerl is told, for instance, that composing music is beyond a girl's capabilities.

Then she meets the Dauphin, heir to the French throne, by employing a little subterfuge that will later show up in her brother's operas. She dresses as a boy and, as a boy, she gets to compose and play the violin.


MONDELLO: Director Rene Feret cast his own daughter, Marie, as Nannerl and she's persuasive, whether obediently sitting at a harpsichord or surreptitiously composing by candlelight.

"Mozart's Sister" follows the general contours of this musical family's real life - strict father, acquiescent mother, nonstop concert tours to keep food on the table. And, if the most arresting plot points are invented, well, as what-if's go, they're fun. Two kids so music-besotted, they wake each other up every morning by inventing new melodies.


MONDELLO: Then a mad dash, still in nightgowns, for a harpsichord, where they wake up the rest of the family playing in tandem.


MONDELLO: Pre-revolutionary France, on the other hand, does not appear to have been a fun place for girls or women, whether in the royal court, where daughters got sent to live in convents, or in musical families, where their talents got squelched.

The film depicts all this without imposing contemporary attitudes and it does so lavishly on what was apparently a tiny budget because the filmmakers benefited from one enormous bonus - they were allowed to film at the Palace of Versailles.

"Mozart's Sister" is consequently kind of gorgeous, shot after candlelit shot looking like old master paintings - and music, of course, to take your breath away.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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