The extreme realism of Northern Skirts gives way here to an impeccable elegance. And even if we are nostalgic for that suburbia so well depicted in the debut feature by the Viennese director, we have to admit that Mademoiselle Paradis shows a marked personality.
To see or to feel?
The face of Maria-Victoria Dragus shows all the passion and dedication of an artist to music. And it is she, the talented Maria-Victoria Dragus, who takes us by the hand into a distant world, in which, however, it is possible to recognise many connections with the present. For the occasion, Maria-Victoria Dragus plays Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759 – 1824), a talented pianist and composer who went blind as a child. She, then, is the protagonist of the feature film Mademoiselle Paradis, directed by Barbara Albert in 2017 and based on the novel Mesmerized by Alissa Walser.
We are in Vienna, in 1777. Maria Theresia is sent by her parents to the doctor Franz Anton Mesmer (played by Devid Striesow), a theorist of Mesmerism and forerunner of hypnosis. Despite much controversy, he represents the last chance for Maria Theresia to regain sight. Miraculously, his cures seem to have an immediate effect and the young pianist begins to see again. Unfortunately, from the moment she regains her sight, her talent seems to have vanished.
What to choose? To finally start seeing the world or to continue devoting herself to her passion for music? In Mademoiselle Paradis, it seems that this decision is not at all up to the protagonist. The latter, in fact, although she shows a firm will, is treated by her authoritarian and anaffective parents almost like a puppet, a precious instrument through which fame and prestige can be achieved. Similarly, the girl is constantly observed by everyone, almost as if she were a freak, whose only purpose is to entertain her audience now with her musical talent now with her physical impairments. And so, the discourse takes on much broader connotations and Barbara Albert’s cinema comes out with all its potential.
Maria Theresia Paradis, then, becomes the symbol of ‘diversity’, of those who are constantly observed with morbid voyeurism, of those who are mocked for their physical characteristics. Just as might happen in a Marco Ferreri film. And society, at the same time, is shown to us with all its weaknesses and hypocrisy. The discourse becomes topical and takes on universal connotations in Mademoiselle Paradis. And while Barbara Albert in 1999 in Northern Skirts had focused mainly on the everyday life of some young people living in the alienating suburbs of Vienna, in her newest feature film she takes her cue from a real-life story to show us how, despite the passage of centuries, certain dynamics have remained practically identical.
The same applies to the situation of women within a purely patriarchal society. The young protagonist is constantly guided by someone who knows life better than she does, by her authoritarian father, but also by the courageous doctor. Yet her own opinion seems to be irrelevant. At the same time, the figure of her maid Agnes is particularly interesting: if a possible love affair between the two seems impossible and above all unacceptable, it is quite natural for the woman to be harassed by men.
Barbara Albert seems to us, then, to be particularly determined. And the director reveals us her theories through a mise-en-scène studied down to the smallest detail, where elegant costumes and meticulous sets provide the perfect background to a personal drama masterfully represented by intense close-ups of Maria-Victoria Dragus’s face and details on playing hands, sumptuous wigs and prematurely bald heads. A ‘too’ perfect mise-en-scene? The extreme realism of Northern Skirts gives way here to an impeccable elegance. And even if we are nostalgic for that suburbia so well depicted in the debut feature by the Viennese director, we have to admit that this Mademoiselle Paradis shows a marked personality. And we like this.
Original title: Licht
Directed by: Barbara Albert
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2017
Running time: 97’
Genre: drama, historical, biographical
Cast: Maria Dragus, Devid Striesow, Lukas Miko, Katja Kolm, Maresi Riegner, Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Stefanie Reinsperger, Christoph Luser, Susanne Wuest, Theresa Martini, Julia Pointner, Sascha Merényi, Attila Beke, Thomas Anton, Christoph Bittenauer, Vivienne Causemann, Katharina Farnleitner, Werner Schwab
Screenplay: Kathrin Resetarits, Barbara Albert, Alissa Walser
Cinematography: Christine A. Maier
Produced by: Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion, LOOKSfilm, ZDF, ARTE, Witcraft Filmproduktion