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 formal but painterly portrait of the legendary Dr Anton Mesmer seen through the experiences of a young bind pianist Maria Theresa Paradis, who sought his help to restore her sight in 1777. Adapted by Kathrin Resetarits from Alissa Walser’s novel ‘Mesmerized’, Barbara Albert offers a rather detached but finely-tuned arthouse drama offering a flimsy but fascinating exposé of Austrian Habsburg society during the time of Mozart when metaphysics, science alternative medicine were all on an equal footing, with unregulated doctors literally practising on unsuspecting patients.
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. Her wealthy family encourages her talent, but a good marriage is imperative in high-society. So 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 her keyboard skills start to deteriorate. A difficult film to warm to: not only are the characters unattractive physically, they’re also unappealing personality-wise, so we have no emotional investment whatsoever in whether the patient is cured, or not. But Mesmer’s methods make this compelling and he by no means comes across as a saviour or a quack, thanks to a skilful performance from David Striesow. Infact Mesmer seems to be the only character here with any chink of humanity, despite remaining rather a cipher. Mademoiselle comes across as a spoilt brat but an intelligent one, and her character and foibles are subtly and convincingly portrayed the Romanian born Maria Dragus ( White Ribbon ) and form the mainstay of what would otherwise would be a rather airless affair compared with Jessica Hausner’s more satisfying Amour Fou, from the same era. Award-winning documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter is one of the producers. MT
ON PRIME VIDEO