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BRIDE OF THE WIND (director: Bruce Beresford; screenwriter: Marilyn Levy; cinematographer: Peter James; editor: Tim Wellburn; music: Stephen Endelman; cast: Sarah Wynter (Alma Mahler), Jonathan Pryce (Gustav Mahler), Vincent Perez (Oskar Kokoschka), Gregor Seberg (Franz Werfel), August Schmölzer (Gustav Klimt), Simon Verhoeven (Walter Gropius), Dagmar Schwarz (Anna Moll), Wolfgang Hübsch (Karl Moll), Renée Fleming (Frances Alda); Runtime: 99; Paramount Classics; 2001)
“Bride of the Wind is burdened with a wooden story and characterizations.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sumptuous visual and musical treat, and also a splendid costume period piece. But “Bride of the Wind” is burdened with a wooden story and characterizations. It is not as colorful as Ken Russell’s much more exciting 1974 film on this subject entitled Mahler. “Bride of the Wind” is set in the Vienna of the early 20th-century, where we first see the attractive and young Alma Schindler (Sarah Wynter) attending a decadent ball. Unfortunately Sarah Wynter plays her part without wit or charm, as she reads her lines without possessing the gravity of the part. Director Bruce Beresford does not know how to be subtle, so every expression made by the uninspiring Alma and her friends is exaggerated–which make for unintended laughs.

The girl is a born flirt, musical composer and singer. The much older Gustave Mahler (Jonathan Pryce) has a hard-on for her. He courts his outspoken critic after attending a dinner-party where she’s a guest. Alma brazenly tells him at the dinner that she thinks he’s a better conductor than a composer. Mahler’s reputation is as a great musician and as a lady’s man, but he’s unsure of himself in her bedroom. But he is relieved that she finds his bedroom performance acceptable. Their marriage is approved by her upstart Czech mother and more reluctantly by her artist stepfather. What helps is that this Jewish outsider converted to Christianity to aid his career (He says: “No cross. No concerts”) and he is now acceptable in anti-Semitic Austria, where he has gained a reputation for his complex and innovative symphonies. But it can never be forgotten that he’s still really a Jew. In one scene, when Alma can’t stand him anymore she says: “I hate you, I hate your Jewish music.” This also seemed more amusing than dramatic.

The aim of “Bride of the Wind” is to trace the frustrated Alma’s busy love life over two decades, starting in 1902 with her meeting of Mahler. There will be drawn out affairs with the following men: The artist Gustav Klimt, the artist Oskar Kokoschka, the architect of the Bauhaus movement Walter Gropius and the novelist Franz Werfel. Alma is saddled with an unfulfilling marriage and feels creatively stifled, as Mahler will not let her advance her own career. As Mahler’s wife she becomes his assistant, his accountant, and servant. Her main task is taking care of their two daughters, Maria and the younger Anna. When Maria dies a sadness comes over the entire household, but even this emotion letting seems cold and distant. Beresford doesn’t have the words to give his character the proper feelings.

Mahler buries himself in work, while Alma recoups from her weariness in a health sanitarium. Here she meets the gracious, attentive and wimpy young architect, Walter Gropius (Simon Verhoeven). They become lovers and when Mahler accidentally finds out, he says to her –I hope you choose me, but you are free to go if you wish. Mahler reminds her of her father, and he gives her status–which becomes her reasons to say she is committed to keeping this marriage intact.

When Mahler who is suffering from a damaged heart dies in Vienna after his tenure in NYC, in 1910, the film also dies due to boredom. The remainder of the melodrama concerns Alma’s affairs, and it is told without a coherent rhythm. She meets the wild artist Oskar Kokoschka (Vincent Perez). Kokoschka is young, unconventional, and daring. He paints what he feels are the motives in the person he sees, and not how they actually look. Their affair leads to a famous painting of Alma that Kokoschka calls Bride of the Wind, a depiction of their passion amid a storm-swept background. But she feels Oskar is choking her creativity like Mahler did, so she rejects him and he joins the army where he is falsely reported killed at the front. When he shows up a year later and sees she’s pregnant, he exclaims you haven’t aborted out baby. She tells the delusional artist that he can’t count, that the baby is obviously not his. The baby is from Gropius, as she married the ambitious, younger architect. He’s Germanic, conventional and boring, who eventually also can’t satisfy her artistic nature. Their marriage lasts but a few years, and soon Alma finds contentment with the cuddly novelist Franz Werfel — a Jew. The movie ends with a 1925 recital at which soprano Frances Alda (Renee Fleming) performed Alma’s songs, but even that striking event had no resonance.

The biopic felt lifeless, and I doubt very much that the characterizations of the big name artists represented are accurate.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”