A scene from 'Bride of the Wind'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 99 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, June 15, 2001
Directed by Bruce Beresford

Starring Sarah Wynter, Jonathan Pryce, Vincent Perez, Simon Verhoeven, Gregor Seberg


Very "Masterpiece Theater," this film may feel right at home on video. But there are subtle nuances in the performances that may be lost in screen shrinkage.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 11.13.2001


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Turn-of-the-Century Vienna muse Alma Mahler strongly portrayed in otherwise lacking biopic

By Rob Blackwelder

The supernaturally beautiful and intelligently pensive-looking Sarah Wynter makes quite an entrance as Alma Mahler at the beginning of "Bride of the Wind."

Arriving at a cocktail party in turn-of-the-Century Vienna, she sheds her wrap to reveal a corseted red dress that would be a knockout even if the scene wasn't shot in black-and-white with the dress the only splash of color. Director Bruce Beresford is just illustrating the point that when Alma entered a room, people noticed.

As she passes through the party, the color follows her, bringing the screen to life, but even without the aid of symbolic contrast, Wynter ("American Psycho," "The 6th Day") would still dominate the frame. This is as it should be since her character is a woman who captured the hearts and inspired the works of several great artists of her time.

Gorgeous, outspoken and intellectual Alma Mahler was the wife of composer Gustav Mahler (played by Jonathan Pryce) while he was writing his best symphonies. She was the lover of painter Oskar Kokoschka (Vincent Perez), who depicted Alma in his most famous creations (like "The Tempest," 1914). She was also married to architect Walter Gropius (Simon Verhoeven), who was a huge influence on the streamlining of 20th Century buildings, and to novelist Franz Werfel (Gregor Seberg), who wrote "Forty Days of Musa Dagh," "Embezzled Heaven" and "The Song of Bernadette" during their 16 years together.

Yet Alma, a poetic musician in her own right, stifled her immense creativity throughout much of her life, dedicating herself body and soul to husbands, lovers and children. It's her resulting frustration and increasingly mercurial nature that drives Wynter's strong performance in what really should be a penetrating biographical film.

But director Beresford (trying to turn respectable after "Double Jeopardy") can't keep up with Wynter's emotional intensity. After establishing Alma's magnetism in the early going, he seems to assumes it's a given that men readily fall in love with her, and as a result he does little to substantiate the chemistry between his heroine and any of her suitors.

After criticizing one of his compositions, Alma clearly becomes the arrogant Mahler's muse and collaborator, but in the early going she is established as such a free spirit it's hard to understand why she gives up her music to quell what amounts to his professional jealousy. With moody and temperamental artist Kokoschka she has heat, but Beresford doesn't seem to recognize their love's most emotional moments -- as when he miraculously returns from World War I after being declared dead. The scene somehow lacks any kind of weight.

By this time she's already married to architect Gropius, whose negligible screen time leaves him entirely one-dimensional. And writer Werfel seems to come out of nowhere to claim her heart by engaging her intellect as the story arcs into its third act.

Historically speaking, "Bride of the Wind" holds one's interest, thanks largely to the captivating beauty and brains of Wynter, who is without question an actress to keep an eye on. But the picture comes up short on passion, and more troubling, it never really shows us how Alma's influence inspired her lovers to reach the pinnacle of their art forms. And although she is shown to have had a flirtatious relationship with artist Gustav Klimt, several others in her creative circle (composers Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, writer Gerhart Hauptmann) are hardly even mentioned.

Beresford ends the film with the first public performance of Alma's music in 1919, but the woman lived and thrived until 1964. I'm not saying I wish this movie were longer, but clearly there was much, much more to come (escaping the Nazis, moving to Hollywood) when the curtain goes down on this version of her life.


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