The Vincent


Author Susanne Keegan devoted ten years of research in writing the biography of Alma Mahler called The Bride of the Wind. The biopic film of the same name, directed by Bruce Beresford and written by Marilyn Levy, never even comes close to capturing the real grandeur, brilliance and ambiguity of this femme fatale and gifted musician.

alma.jpg (9858 bytes)Alma Schindler's life is highlighted during Vienna's golden age of artistic and musical achievement at the turn of the century. The first half of the film focuses primarily on her marriage to classical composer Gustav Mahler and her role as mother to daughters Maria and Anna. The film then moves on to the widowed Alma living in the shadow of Mahler as she develops relationships with architect Walter Gropius, expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Attempting to be a sweeping historical and romantic drama, Bride of the Wind is thwarted ultimately by Ms. Levy's very superficial script. Her words fail to breathe any life into people and events. Most of the dialogue leans toward the absurd when you know that these artists were intellectuals with an abundance of creative talent.

As for the director, Bruce Beresford has done some fine work in previous films such as Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy. Unfortunately, he manages to direct this entire film without any inspiration or passion, which the story cries out for. The film must then rely on its international cast to maximize their abilities. Most succeed in this task.

Australian actress Sarah Wynter, who plays the beautiful Alma, was instructed to arrive on the set weighing 30 plus pounds. However, she added only 15, maintaining her svelte figure of the modern age rather than the full-figured woman that Alma actually was (see photo above). This seems to contradict the sensual plumpness depicted in the nude paintings of women shown in the film. That in itself is a major flaw. Ms. Wynter fails to bring any spontaneity, sexuality or mystique to her character resulting in dreams of a Kate Winslet or Rachel Weisz giving us a much more vibrant Alma Mahler.

As usual, Welch actor Jonathan Pryce gives a rich performance as Alma's self-absorbed husband, Gustav Mahler, with a striking resemblance to the real Gustav. German actor Simon Verhoeven plays Walter Gropius in such a deadpan manner that it's difficult to believe that Alma would have been attracted to him beyond his beauty. I have to believe it was Beresford's direction that accounts for this. A round of applause goes to Swiss actor Vincent Perez for evoking any emotional response to the film. Whether he's hot-tempered, passionate, pathetic or even tragic, he's absolutely captivating on screen. It's interesting to note that Oskar indeed had a lifelike doll made which he paraded around town with and he was quite taken with Alma's ruby glass-beaded necklace, which he often wore around his neck, and which was later stored in one of his mother's potted plants when he left for the war.

I can't deny that there's a sumptuous flavor to the film in its lush set designs and finely detailed drawing rooms and painting studios. The "to die for" costumes, especially Alma's wardrobe, are made of the most beautiful feminine cloths. Embroidered smocking, ruffles and Venetian lace abound and define the elegance of fashion for that age. The soundtrack is spectacular with a seamless blend of music composed by both Gustav and Alma, as well as some original pieces by Stephen Endelman. Alas, so much potential but little radiance.

Sharon Connolly
June 2001

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