Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 16, 2014 4:41 pm 
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HENRIETTE CONFURIUS, FLORIAN STETTER AND HANNAH HERZSPRUNG IN THE BELOVED SISTERS

A love trio at a turning point in European cultural and political history

Caroline von Lengefeld (Hannah Herzsprung) and her younger sister Charoltte (Henriette Confurius) were beautiful, elegant, free-spirited sisters living from the late 18th into the early 19th century whose well-born mother was a widow of diminished fortune and they were pledged to be intimate and loyal forever. When they met the poet and revolutionary Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter), he fell in love with both of them. This made for a complicated but very interesting life about which Dominik Graf, filmmaker returning to features from television after a ten-year hiatus, has made a beautiful, action-packed, unusually lively historical film that is so rich and lush and smart it's hard to get your head around, especially since the full version is 170 minutes and could almost have been a mini-series. The time passes quickly. The storytelling, full of cultural and social history and psychology and specifics about publishing and printing and contemporary politics (naturally including the French Revolution), is breathless as Joyce Cary's in his narrative tour-de-force A Fearful Joy, which skips through years in a paragraph. Look away or blow your nose and you risk missing a whole series or incidents and reversals of fortune, many of which were made up within the historical context by Dominik Graf for his screenplay, because specifics of the relationships are not fully known.

This is still the golden age of letter-writing and in a way Beloved Sisters is an unusually richly elaborated and dramatized and "opened up" epistolary novel (the sound of quills scratching across paper and the images of distinctly different and real-looking 18th-century handwritings are constants), and at first the trio's exchanges are written in elaborate code. There is also a breathless serial novel written anonymously by Caroline and supervised by Friedrich and published in cliff-hanger segments, like Dickens, using new mass printing techniques suitable for a growing audience. Schiller tells Caroline, his real soul-mate (despite his marrying Charlotte), that the French Revolution wouldn't have happened without new faster typesetting methods. allowing pages to be set up in blocks.

This is the birth of German romanticism, with Goethe still around and he and Schiller facing off awkwardly. (Goethe and Charlotte's lively godmother, played by Maja Maranow, were intimates.) It's a time when the picturesque was big news and the Force of Nature was a huge discovery and intellectuals are national celebrities. When Schiller is given a lectureship at the University of Jena, and the topic is a blend of history, philosophy, and poetry, he is greeted by a packed house like a rock star. This is a scene so profusely realized that it was painful to have to be distracted from all the detail by reading subtitles, but that's what happens when you forgot to learn German. Ultimately the two sisters are at each other's throats. Being married and always involved with Schiller and having children and not perhaps knowing whose they are is too complicated for even the most symbiotic of relationships. But Graf, despite being a visually showy filmmaker (and the landscapes, interiors, and architecture -- mostly using real locations -- shot by Michael Wieswig are a consistent pleasure Scott Foundas has compared to Barry Lyndon), manages to bypass melodrama and conventional tragic interludes in his modern and relaxed approach to history.

As Charlotte, Henriette Confurius at first seems the purer beauty, with her blooming skin, but then, by God, as time goes on you realize that Hannah Herzsprung, who has the more important role, is equally beautiful and has a more complex face. Both give powerful performances, and as Schiller Florian Stetter has all the authority and dreamy romantic glamor you could want, though this is an unusually smart and rich amalgam of lots besides swooniness. Once seen, it seems one film it would have been a crime not to include in the choosy New York Film Festival.

The Beloved Sisters/Die geliebten Schwestern, 170 mins., written and directed by Dominik Graf, debuted at Berlin 2014 and has shown at ten or more other international festivals since and been theatrically released in Germany. It was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. Opening in NY on December 24 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema (Music Box Films). (Jan. 9, 2015 Landmark San FRancisco.)

(For my full coverage of the 2014 NYFF see also FILMLEAF.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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