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  • Articles by Sonali

    Film review - Mademoiselle Paradis, London Film Festival 2017

    A young woman, prodigiously talented but disabled, Maria Theresia von Paradis was an eighteenth century musician, composer and a contemporary of Mozart. There’s even a street named after her in Vienna. Von Paradis’s achievement as a piano player is more remarkable because she was blind from the age of 3.

    ‘Mademoiselle Paradis’, a film screened at this year’s London Film Festival sheds light on her life. It’s based on the book ‘Mesmerized’ by Alissa Walzer and directed by Barbera Albert. Set in the Rococo Vienna of 1777, the opening scene has eighteen year old Paradis, (Maria Dragus), practising the piano. She’s a virtuoso pianist but there’s a focus on her eyes, and their disfiguration due to blindness, which is challenging to watch. From the outset Dragus gives a gritty and finely tuned performance.

    After this initial jolt the film continues at a gentler pace. Von Paradis is paraded around by her parents. She performs at concerts attended by the Viennese aristocracy. Here she is both admired for her playing and pitied for her disability. It’s evident that she finds great solace in her music though.

    Her parents are looking for someone to cure her blindness. They find a ‘miracle doctor’ Franz Anton Mesmer (David Striesow) who’s known for his unorthodox treatments using magnetic fields. Von Paradis travels to his estate to receive treatment.

    Dr Mesmer is an ambiguous character, mysterious and difficult to read. He brings a zingy energy and brightness to the story, which would otherwise plod along quietly. At times he’s caring about his patient’s wellbeing. It’s more likely that he’s driven by ego and ambition. Dr Mesmer’s unusual treatments involve tethering his patients to a machine that generates magnetic rays. In truth, all this seems dubious. But Von Paradis regains her eyesight. Is this down to his treatment or can her recovery be explained by her new environment, and its freedoms? The film doesn’t say.

    There’s plenty of frou frou Rococo detail: costumes are festooned with ribbons and ruffles. Von Paradis’s towering wigs are impressive and the sets are sumptuous. The story doesn’t shy away from revealing injustice and cruelty though, plainly highlighting restrictions on women at that time.  

    In turns out the film was originally supposed to be called ‘Light’. The scene when von Paradis is first able to detect white sunlight again is wondrous. She also ventures into the gardens surrounding the estate, exploring the scenery anew, raising the question what is beauty?

    Moreover, her ability to play the piano diminishes as she regains her vision. The film’s second half is angsty as she struggles to get to grips with her loss of identity. She says ‘I don’t want to be someone that can do nothing, and is nothing’.

    In the Q & A session following the screening Director Barbara Albert said that she jumped at the opportunity to tell von Paradis’s forgotten story, which is both relevant and modern. There is no mention of Mozart in the film to avoid detracting attention away from her. Albert added that, as a successful musician, von Paradis was in a better position than many of her female counterparts. She finds unparalleled freedom in her music. 


    In german with subtitles




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