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Tuesday 14 August 2018

Licht (Mademoiselle Paradis), Film, Austria (2017), screenplay by Kathrin Resetarits directed by Barbara Albert, Jerusalem Film Festival, 9* out of 10

Based on true events, Mademoiselle Paradis is a beautifully observed psychological drama playing in 18th century Vienna, yet highly relevant for our time. Maria Dragus shines in the title role.

Vienna 1777. Maria Theresia Paradis (Maria Dragus) who was suddenly blinded as a young child has at the age of 18 obtained a stipend from Empress Maria Theresia of Austria due to her talent as a concert pianist. Her concerts are attended by Viennese society who love the spectacle of beautiful concerts being given by a blind girl. The young pianist’s parents Josef Anton (Lukas Miko) and Maria Rosalia (Katja Kolm) manage their daughter’s career. The Paradis family’s social position in Viennese society can only be maintained due to the dotage and stipend the young girl receives from the Empress. The controversial German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (Devid Striesow) who experiments with unusual therapies (magnetism, laying on of hands, talking therapies) is also in Vienna. He is married to Anna Maria von Posch (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg), a wealthy Viennese widow. Their house contains a sanatorium for people who have been given up or in fact ruined by the traditional medicine of the time. With his research and therapies, Mesmer seeks to gain acceptance in the scientific circles of Vienna, who are highly sceptical of his innovative ideas. When the parents of Mlle. Paradis bring her daughter to Mesmer and he manages to achieve some progress with restoring sight, he hopes that she will become his ticket to scientific recognition. As her sight improves the young girl begins to gain confidence and stands up to her parents and the relationship between her parents and Mesmer deteriorates. Moreover, as Maria Theresia’s sight appears to improve she begins to lose part of the virtuosity on the piano, on which the family depends.

Kathrin Resetarits has skilfully adapted the excellent novel Mesmerized (Am Anfang war die Nacht Musik) by Alissa Walser which is based on true events. Under Barbara Albert’s excellent direction Mademoiselle Paradis is a beautifully observed psychological drama that provides an insight into different strata of Viennese society, focusing on the vulnerable position of women, without ever straying from telling a suspenseful story full of socio-psychological drama. On the surface Mademoiselle Paradis looks like an historical costume drama and the costumes and photography evoking the Vienna between Baroque and Enlightenment are of a high order, the story of a talented person finding herself being pulled in all directions their entourage and their public is as relevant today as it was then. Screenplay, direction, cinematography and ensemble acting are at a consistently high level of achievement throughout and fit together beautifully and even at this high level, Maria Dragus performance as Maria Theresia Paradis stands out.

Made by talented women, to be enjoyed by both men, women and any other gender, Mademoiselle Paradis is an outstanding psychological thriller in an historical setting. Highly recommended. 


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