Bride Of The Wind
If turn-of-the-century history were entirely documented by arthouse bodice-rippers, all upper-class women from the period would be headstrong and progressive, heedlessly defying the codes that govern high society. This normally tired, anachronistic stereotype actually applies to Alma Schindler, Viennese landscape painter Emil Schindler's scandalous daughter, who married such notable figures as composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius, and writer Franz Werfel, and had a three-year affair with painter Oskar Kokoschka. Why, then, in Bruce Beresford's tepid biopic Bride Of The Wind, does she still come across as a tired, anachronistic stereotype? Part of the blame should fall on Beresford, a prolific and increasingly anonymous director who has squandered the early promise of Breaker Morant and Tender Mercies in favor of a career more notable for quantity than quality. His mode of slick professionalism lends no additional insight to first-time screenwriter Marilyn Levy's by-the-numbers portraiture, which reduces a dynamic and contradictory figure to a minor historical footnote. Titled after an expressionist Kokoschka painting of Alma, Bride Of The Wind opens in 1902 Vienna, where the 22-year-old heroine (Sarah Wynter) has become a gifted pianist and fixture on the bohemian art scene. Outspoken and opinionated, she greets rising composer Gustav Mahler (Jonathan Pryce) with stinging criticisms of his work, but the two instantly fall in love and get married, despite the obstacles presented by Mahler's age (he was 20 years her senior) and Jewish heritage. Later, tired of her stifling role as Mahler's assistant, accountant, and mother to their two children, she takes solace in the arms of Gropius (Simon Verhoeven), an influential modern architect whom she wed four years after her husband's death, then divorced a short time later. She also enters into a torrid relationship with rebel artist Kokoschka (Vincent Perez) and later finds contentment with socialist writer Werfel. As one of the century's greatest and most notorious muses, the multi-hyphenated Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel etched her legacy through other men, sublimating her own gifts and ambitions in the process. But Beresford and Levy are too wrapped up in rote melodrama to explore the ironic discrepancy between her independent spirit and her lifelong attraction to powerful artists who lead her to willfully stifle her talent. The shallow, generic Bride Of The Wind intends to show her hidden influence on early-20th-century craft, but makes her seem more trivial than even the least generous historian would acknowledge.