- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

"Bride of the Wind" gives us Sarah Wynter as Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel, pre-eminent consort of the Viennese art world in the early decades of the 20th century. But the efforts of writer Marilyn Levy and director Bruce Beresford to glorify their subject prove chronically stilted and unflattering. The movie boils down to recurrent hanky-panky in a toney cultural setting.
Miss Levy is a novice screenwriter and Mr. Beresford a director of considerable experience. But the artistic ferment and prominence of turn-of-the-century Vienna as simulated in "Bride of the Wind" - although never as rabid as the nightclub scene in "Moulin Rouge" - look ridiculous in typical movie respects. Mr. Beresfords evocation fights losing battles with both superficiality and staleness. Indeed, the once admirable director, whose credits include "Breaker Morant" and "Driving Miss Daisy," seems to throw in the towel at an early point, perhaps upon reflecting that the script resembles the plodding pilot of a 50-part miniseries.
Miss Wynters celebrated seductress and muse is introduced at a rebellious but also opportunistic 22. Shes an aspiring musician who may be getting a somewhat shady reputation by hanging out with painter Gustav Klimt and his harem of models. When Alma captivates composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (Jonathan Pryce) by belittling his work during a dinner-party conversation, one might jump to the conclusion that she has a fatal attraction for Gustavs.
Not so. Mahler, 20 years her senior, widows her after a decade, opening the door for a second marriage, to architect Walter Gropius, encountered at a spa, and a tempestuous affair with painter Oskar Kokoschka, who uses their passion as the subject of an allegorical composition titled "Bride of the Wind." Vincent Perezs crazed Kokoschka gives the movie most of its wackier highlights, in part because his life did take some astonishing turns while he was obsessed with Alma.
While still wed to the ill-fated Mahler, the heroine is obliged to shelve her own song melodies for domesticity, not to mention thankless transcribing and bookkeeping for the great man, whose lofty egotism ("What an evening. Strauss loved it," he exclaims after a particularly triumphant concert) may or may not excuse his restless spouses flirtation with Gropius (Simon Verhoeven), whom I now think of as the Groper. The scripts level of sophistication may be suggested by Almas saucy commentary soon after Walter introduces himself, modestly, as a dancer and architect: "And what other talents do you possess, Mr. Gropius?" Shes as insinuating as Mae West, although far less commanding.
Deadpan depiction in this fractured context makes even harrowing events look farcical. At one point, Oskars protective mama threatens to assassinate the devil woman, prompting Almas standout quip: "I was never popular with mothers."
Miss Levy seems intent on promoting a shrine in the hall of fame for feminist pathfinders. A postscript even seems to rate Almas repertoire of 16 songs higher than the accomplishments of her famed mates and lovers. One doubts that poor Franz Schubert ever got a bigger ovation from a recital crowd than the fictionalized Alma gets at the close of "Bride," when Renee Fleming drops in to croon two selections.
Despite the attempts at overcompensation, Miss Wynters Alma remains a pretty dubious enchantress. Shes always more believable when acting haughty or shifting blame. Trying to figure out her elusive allure may provide some idle amusement while the movie petrifies. Miss Wynter bears a fleeting resemblance to Gene Tierney, but her apparent lack of friskiness and perceptible warmth could prove inconvenient. Miss Wynter seems reluctant to act until instructed to strip and feign an overheated condition. Maybe she would be a more animated Alma if every scene were a bedroom scene.

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