Friday June 8, 2001
Bruce Beresford's "Bride of the Wind" is a resolutely conventional biographical drama of a most unconventional woman, Alma Mahler. She was a Viennese beauty at the turn of the 20th century who set her sights on composer-conductor Gustav Mahler. That he was nearly twice her age and required that she give up her own aspirations as a composer didn't stop her.
After his death she married a former lover, pioneer Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius, had a tempestuous affair--among many, apparently--with Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka and eventually settled into an enduring marriage to writer Franz Werfel, with whom she immigrated to Hollywood in 1938, where his novel "The Song of Bernadette" became a beloved Oscar-winning film.
Marilyn Levy's script suggests that Alma never experienced the freedom she craved until Werfel came into her life. That sounds reasonable enough, but actress Sarah Wynter, while striking-looking, lacks the passion and individuality to be convincing as so legendary a muse and lover. Wynter is most effective in her scenes with Jonathan Pryce, whose portrayal of the complex and self-absorbed Gustav Mahler is heads above all others in its focus, concentration and depth. Alma is presented as a young woman who strives mightily to be the dutiful wife the obtusely neglectful Mahler expects her to be.
On the whole, Beresford, an accomplished director, and his actors get little help from Levy's often flat, colorless dialogue and her overall uninspired take on Alma Mahler's life. Vincent Perez is stuck playing a Kokoschka written as a stereotypically reckless and uninhibited artist. Simon Verhoeven's Gropius comes across as merely a clenched prig, and the glimpse we get of Gregor Seberg's Werfel suggests that he's a charming, middle-aged man secure enough to encourage rather than repress Alma.
"Bride of the Wind" has the usual stiffness of the English-language production set in a European locale where everyone speaks with accents of varying intensity and authenticity. "Bride of the Wind" takes its title from Kokoschka's immense painting of Alma and himself in bed, in the eye of a storm, as it were, and it is a suitably sumptuous period film with splendid, often aptly gloomy settings and equally fine and accurate costumes. "Bride of the Wind" is mildly entertaining, offering generous swaths of Mahler performed by the Bratislava Philharmonic, but it's also inescapably ponderous.
Bride of the Wind, 2001. R, for sexuality and nudity. A Paramount Classics and Total Film Group presentation of an Alma UK Ltd./Appolomedia and Firelight co-production. Director Bruce Beresford. Producers Lawrence Levy and Evzen Kolar. Executive producers Gerald Green, Frank Hubner. Screenplay by Marilyn Levy. Cinematographer Peter James. Editor Timothy Wellburn. Music Stephen Endelman. Costumes Shuna Harwood. Production designer Herbert Pinter. Art director Christian Marin. Set decorator Barbara Demmer. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. Sarah Wynter as Alma Mahler. Jonathan Pryce as Gustav Mahler. Vincent Perez as Oskar Kokoschka. Simon Verhoeven as Walter Gropius.