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'Bride of the Wind'

Mrs. Mahler: 'Bride of the Wind' profiles Alma Schindler, the toast of Vienna

Friday, June 29, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Breakfast with Klimt, lunch with Kokoschka, dinner with Mahler -- and midnight snacks with Gropius. Alma Schindler's men constituted a rich diet, indeed, and so does this lush periodic piece about her life.

    "Bride of the Wind"

Rating: R for sexual themes and some nudity

Players: Sarah Wynter, Jonathan Pryce, Vincent Perez

Director: Bruce Beresford

Critic's Call: 3 stars


It carries the same title -- "Bride of the Wind" -- as the famous expressionist painting she inspired. Directed by Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Double Jeopardy," "Tender Mercies," "Crimes of the Heart"), it stars newcomer Sarah Wynter as the toast of 1902 Vienna and apple of composer Gustav Mahler's eye.This Schindler's list of lovers makes for a distinguished "Who's Who" of fin-de-siecle Viennese culture: composer Alexander Zemlinsky (her music teacher), Gustav Mahler (first husband), artists Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, Bauhaus founder-architect Walter Gropius (second husband), poet-dramatist Franz Werfel (third husband). Schoenberg and Caruso didn't neglect her, either.

A scorecard would be useful. Suffice it to say, she was a collector of geniuses and dazzled them all. More songs, poems, symphonies, paintings -- and even buildings, for God's sake -- were dedicated to her than to than any other early 20th-century muse.

"I'm not the great lover after all," says a crestfallen Mahler (Jonathan Pryce) after their first unsuccessful go-round in the sack. She smiles languidly, moves knowingly, and makes sure Round Two is a winner.

He was 42, she just 23 -- a gifted musician-composer herself. But to become Mrs. Mahler, she'd pay a high male-chauvinist price. "Would it be possible for you to think of my music as yours from now on?" he asks unctuously. Alma gets the drift: No room for two composers in the Mahler match.

She was the love of his life, the mother of his two daughters, the source of his inspiration -- and of his problems. A lot of great composers were in need of the psychiatric couch, but only one -- Mahler -- was "shrunk" by Sigmund himself: Alma's affair with Gropius drove him to a marriage counseling session with Dr. Freud, who noted Mahler's frustrations with his wife and with being so long undiscovered, "like the South Pole." He also suffered from a heart ailment and depression and was shattered by the death of their elder daughter Maria.

For better or worse, in sickness and in health, Alma was a dutiful spouse, mother and money manager until disaffection -- in the catalytic form of Gropius -- got the best of her. In the film's best scene, she lambasts Gustav with a mean anti-Semitic touch: "You drove me to him, you crushed my spirit. You used me as your assistant, your accountant -- I hate you and your Jewish music!"

There is no mention or exploration of any "Death in Venice"-type homosexual angst here. In any case, the composer's early death in 1911 put them out of marital misery and allowed Alma to be something more comfortable than Mahler's wife: Mahler's widow.

And Kokoschka's lover. Vincent Perez is terrific as the jealous, volatile artist whose "Bride of the Wind" masterpiece canvas depicts Alma and himself in a central sexual oasis, surrounded by tempests and torrents. (After she jilted him, he created a lifesize Alma doll which he carried around Vienna to parties and even the opera!)

She didn't jilt Franz Werfel. She just locked him in his room until he finished the chapter he was working on -- helping him create his biggest success, "Song of Bernadette."

"Bride of the Wind" is sumptuously photographed by Peter James and graced with gorgeous Mahler renderings by the Bratislava Philharmonic Orchestra, particularly of Symphonies No. 3 and 8 and of the heartbreaking "Kindertoten" lieder.

Wynter, resembling a more laconic version of Glenda Jackson, is graceful and forceful in her portrayal of a woman who refused to follow rules of behavior, sexual or otherwise, and got everything from her life and her genius-men except what she evidently wanted most: the freedom to become a musical artist herself.

But Marilyn Levy's screenplay is so occupied with period detail, and being beautiful and true to the historical time, place and characters, that it neglects the narrative and loses momentum. Beresford's direction is likewise lovely, aesthetically, but limper than usual.

The film result is not unlike Alma: wonderfully artistic but a bit aimless, with a too-sharp eye for name-dropping. It is a weak ending that relies on aftermath-titles to sum everybody and everything up.

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