Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dominik Graf's BELOVED SISTERS: Germany's submission for Best Foreign Language Film

For whatever reason (advance praise, most likely), I fully expected that Dominik Graf's bio-pic about Friederich Schiller and the von Lengefeld sisters would be one of the nine movies listed for possible Best Foreign Language Film honors. When it was not, I wondered why. Now that I have seen the movie, I think I can figure it out. BELOVED SISTERS (Die geliebten Schwestern) is a good film: smart and fast-moving, with wonderful period detail that looks about as genuine as movies these days can manage. The performances are fine, too, as is the writing and direction. But the film lasts ten minutes short of three hours, and this is finally too long for what eventually begins to seem like something a little too close to soap opera. We and the movie spend more time with this threesome than their story -- as seen here and which is, overall, a little on the slight and repetitive side -- will bear.

The Academy is not overly fond of very lengthy movies. For my money, one of the best films of the year --- Winter Sleep -- was also passed over for the BFLF short list, and it lasts a half hour longer than this one. Winter Sleep however, is deeper and more profound than Beloved Sisters, which stays pretty close to the surface, albeit a very alluring and interesting surface, throughout. Filmmaker Graf, pictured at right, a veteran of television, goes for the fast-moving pace, and fills his film with immense detail -- of place, person, plot, the works. His movie is never uninteresting, and considering that it's all about the personal, professional and sexual lives of some famous people, it proves much less leering than you might expect. It is absolutely worth seeing, if not, perhaps, worth awarding.

We've had Young Goethe in Love, so why not Young Schiller, as well. Graf's movie is twice the one that Philipp Stölzl's was. Schiller, as portrayed by Florian Stetter (above), is shown to excellent advantage as a philosopher, writer and lover, while the two sisters -- Caroline (Hannah Herzsprung, below, right) and Charlotte (Henriette Confurius, below, left) are very well paired. The scene (above) in which Schiller first addresses the university at which he has come to teach is genuinely vibrant and moving.

Along the route we get some fascinating facts about the German view of the French Revolution, printing presses of this particular era, current living standards, the importance of money in keeping even the supposed wealthy in appropriate shape, and the behavior required of proper young ladies and gentlemen of the day. (Claudia Messner does a particularly fine turn as the sister's smart, concerned and appealing mother.)

If I appear to damning Beloved Sisters with faint praise, I'll be clear. The praise is not faint, it's simply not immense. The movie is beautiful, consistently interesting and tackles a real story and unusual situation with not mere "taste" but with discipline and style. It has terrific energy and excellent pacing, too.

From Music Box Films and running 170 minutes, Beloved Sisters begins its theatrical run this Friday, January 9, in New York City (at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Landmark Sunshine), in the Los Angeles area (at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5) and five other cities -- before spreading out across the country in the weeks and months to come. You can view all currently scheduled playdates by clicking here and then clicking on the word THEATERS about halfway down the screen.

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