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WILD ABOUT ALMA
A LOOK AT THE LIFE AND LOVES OF ALMA MAHLER

BRIDE OF THE WIND ***

STARRING: Sarah Wynter, Jonathan Pryce

DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

RATING: R for nudity and sexual situations

THE LOWDOWN: The wily Alma Schindler cuts a swath through Europe's male intellectual elite - Mahler, Gropius, Werfel and others.

Despite the fact that preferences in feminine allure change over the years, photographic evidence indicates that Alma Schindler Mahler was not a raving beauty. But she obviously had some mystical combination of irresistible wiles and animal magnetism because every man she met seemed instantly to want her.

Sarah Wynter, who plays Alma in Bruce Beresford's new film "Bride of the Wind," is by today's standards an attractive woman, but certainly not the sexpot type Hollywood and the TV industry favor.

Wynter is, then, very well cast as Alma in this gorgeously filmed survey of those years (1900-1940) during which, as comic songster Tom Lehrer put it, "she managed to acquire as lovers practically all the top creative men in Europe, including three she went so far as to marry."

Alma Schindler was an accomplished pianist and an aspiring composer at the time she met composer/conductor Gustav Mahler. Apparently, she had toyed with the affections of many young men up to this point. Her diary reveals that even then she longed for wildly unbridled sexual encounters, but always held her virginity aloof.

With Mahler she realized she had found someone with a will as strong as hers. What she didn't realize was that he had a stronger control card: insistence that she give up her music career. The willful Alma disregarded family advice and married Mahler in 1902, only to be promptly confronted with reality. "You have only one profession from now on," Mahler told her, "to make me happy!"

For Alma, this was the beginning of a series of husbands and lovers, and a 27-year hiatus from her own musical career, which would be the source of much of her unhappiness. The film leaves this as an illusory sub-theme, which surfaces in 1929 when her new husband Franz Werfel encourages her musical aspirations. At once the film seems to modulate to an airy major key.

In between, there had been Mahler's death in 1911, preceded by an affair with the architect Walter Gropius, which later became an ill-fated marriage, and a stormy relationship with painter Oskar Kokoschka.

In life, both Alma and Gustav would have been considered "difficult" personalities. The film seems to soften both, Mahler perhaps a bit more than Alma. Jonathan Pryce's portrayal of Mahler as totally self-absorbed in music is so convincing that Pryce's face begins to resemble the famous sloping contour and chiseled features of the famous Rodin bust of Mahler. He was arrogant and dictatorial in the wider context, but charming one-on-one. Sarah Wynter's Alma is probably closer to the real character: vain, mercurially excitable and tempestuous, yet extremely capable in everyday living, as when she took charge of Mahler's near-bankrupt finances and straightened them out within a year. Vincent Perez and Gregor Seberg are haunting look-alikes for Kokoschka and Werfel, and play those roles superbly.

The film's title comes from a painting by Kokoschka. When he insisted that Alma come to live with him, a huge argument ensued and Alma said that only after he painted his masterpiece could he afford to keep her. A large expressionist canvas of Alma and Oskar, titled "Bride of the Wind," was the result, but it did little assure their peaceful long-term relationship.

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