Dir: Barbara Albert | Cast: Maria Dragus, Devid Striesow, Lukas Miko, Katja Kolm, Maresi Riegner, Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Stefanie Reinsperger, Susanne Wuest, Christoph Luser | Austria | Biopic Drama | 97′
Rococo Vienna is the setting for this vicarious tale of the legendary Dr Anton Mesmer seen through the experiences of a young bind pianist Maria Thereisa Paradis who sought his help to restore her sight in 1777. Adapted by Kathrin Resetarits (Michael) from Alissa Walser’s novel Mesmerized, Barbara Albert offers a rather detached but finely-tuned and informative arthouse drama offering a flimsy but fascinating exposé of Austrian Habsburg society during the time of Mozart where metaphysics, science alternative medicine were all on an equal footing, with unregulated doctors practicing widely.
The film opens as the 18 year-old Mademoiselle is seen playing the harpsichord, her cataract-ridden eyes rolling as she jerks her head from side to side. It is not a pretty sight but the music is delightful. From a wealthy family, her talent is encouraged but a good marriage imperative in high-society. Her parents Joseph (Lukas Miko) and Maria (Katja Kolm) consult Dr Mesmer (David Striesow/The Counterfeiters) whose methods are based on animal magnetism and positive fields of energy, otherwise known as ‘healing hands’. Initial results are positive and Mesmer and his wife are keen to gain credibility in court circles to further their cause. But bizarrely, once Mademoiselle’s sight improves, so her keyboard skills deteriorate. It’s difficult to warm to this film: not only are the characters unattractive physically, they’re also unappealing personally, so we have no emotional investment whatsoever in whether the patient is cured, or not. But there’s a certainly curiosity in Mesmer’s methods and Mesmer by no means comes across as saviour or quack. Infact he is played by Striesow as the only character here with any chink of humanity, but he stills remains rather a cipher. Dragus’ Mademoiselle comes across as a spoilt brat but an intelligent one, but her character arc is subtle and convincing and certainly forms the mainstay of what otherwise would be a rather placid affair compared with Jessica Hausner’s more satisfying Amour Fou, from the same era. MT
SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4-15 OCTOBER 2017