Given our current obsession with celebrity couples, it comes as little surprise to see the great loves of great people as movie fodder. But what’s most interesting about the otherwise sluggish Bride of the Wind is how fame and love are irrevocably intertwined. Screenwriter Marilyn Levy and director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies) may have envisioned Alma Schindler as the major muse in Vienna during the first decades of the 20th century (when it was the center of artistic innovation), but she comes off as a high-culture groupie, one who sees talent as the ultimate aphrodisiac.
“You’re the Freud of Viennese painters,” Alma (Sarah Wynter) declares to Oskar Kokoschka (Vincent Perez), asserting his stature while assessing his attractiveness. Their tumultuous fire-and-ice union would yield one of the expressionist’s most passionate (and famous) paintings, The Bride of the Wind, which portrayed Alma and Oskar as lovers embracing in a maelstrom. Yet this you-and-me-against-the-world insularity seems foreign to a woman whose couplings appear to be motivated by their publicity value.
Take her first husband, composer Gustav Mahler (Jonathan Pryce), portrayed here as a troubled and troublesome talent who insists that Alma give up her own songwriting and let his music become theirs. Wynter’s unfocused portrayal of Alma never grasps why a rebellious free spirit (with a few famous lovers already under her belt) would suddenly turn submissive. Or why, even after she’s freed from Mahler’s influence, weds Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius (Simon Verhoeven) and beds novelist-playwright Franz Werfel (Gregor Seberg), she’s constantly in a state of testy annoyance.
The real Alma Mahler-Werfel transformed her copious journals into several autobiographies and eventually landed in Hollywood, nirvana for a fame junkie. But was it actually creativity — and her own squelched desires — which drove her alliances? Was she another woman who, denied her own voice, found expression by supporting the famous men around her? Don’t look to Bride of the Wind for answers. It’s a pretty, shallow collection of her dalliances which never explains her obsessive need to be in the proximity of greatness.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Visit the official Bride Of The Wind Web site at www.paramountclassics.com/bride.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].