Directed by Bruce Beresford. US 2001. 99 mins.
It is said that behind every successful man stands a woman. But rarely in history has one woman, Alma Mahler, stood behind so many brilliant and accomplished men. With Bride Of The Wind, Australian director Bruce Beresford (Double Jeopardy, Driving Miss Daisy) attempts to, if not unravel Alma's legendary appeal, then at least showcase her alluring mystique. But, due to a flat script and a disappointing performance from lead actress Sarah Wynter, he fails to make his case. While sumptuous to look at breathtaking Viennese locations, exquisite production design and dazzling costumes, Bride fails to shed even a modicum of light on what made this woman so special.
Alma was to fin-de-siecle Vienna what Lillie Langtry was to turn-of-the-century London. An intelligent, outspoken, extraordinarily beautiful woman, who cared little for convention, she scandalised polite society with a seemingly never-ending series of love affairs with some of the most prominent names of the early 20th Century: painters Klimt and Kokoschka, singer Enrico Caruso, composers Arnold Schoenberg and Mahler, visionary architect Walter Gropius and novelist Franz Werfel, the last three of whom she eventually married.
A not untalented composer and musician in her own right, Alma always felt stifled by the men in her life. Mahler (Jonathan Pryce in a one-note turn) demanded that she give up her own musical aspirations when they married. She did, but resented it terribly. Kokoschka (Vincent Perez, frenetic and ridiculous in a thankless role) was jealous to the point of obsession. In the key role of Alma, model-turned-actress Wynter turns in an inert, colourless portrayal. Cate Blanchett could have taken that part and created an indelible impression, as magnificent as her work in Elizabeth.
The film, which spans 30 years and is named after a Kokoschka painting, has a relentlessly episodic feel. World-shattering events, such as WWI and the Russian Revolution, sail by unconvincingly in a couple of brief scenes - sometimes merely a line or two - and there's no sense of historical import or critical perspective. By today's standards, Bride also contains a patently unrealistic battle sequence.
Certainly it's nice to see Beresford, a talented if erratic director, who normally excels at intimate dramas (Tender Mercies, Black Robe and Breaker Morant, a seminal work of the Australian New Wave), return to substantive material after the artistically lamentable if also commercial Double Jeopardy. But due to Marilyn Levy's superficially Freudian script, which fails to invest any of the characters with complexity or depth, he never makes a convincing case for his heroine. Alma comes across as fickle, insensitive, irresponsible and self-absorbed, hardly the stuff to inspire great passion. Most fatally to the film, aside from Alma's physical beauty, it's difficult to fathom how and why she inspired such idolatry.
Pro cos Total Film Group, Apollo Media Gmbh
US dist Paramount Classics
Exec prods Gerald Green, Frank Hubner
Prods Lawrence Levy, Evzen Kolar
Scr Marilyn Levy
Pro des Herbert Pinter
Ed Timothy Wellburn
Music Stephen Endelman
Main cast Sarah Wynter, Jonathan Pryce, Vincent Perez, Simon Verhoeven, Gregor Seberg