Sunday, September 18, 2016

Beloved Sisters (Germany)

Cine Europa
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

This 170 minutes long German film was its official entry for the best foreign-language category of the 2015 Oscars. A period drama/ biopic about the famous 18th century German writer/poet/ philosopher Friedrich Schiller. It focuses on the 20 year unusual menage a trois he shared with the Lengefeld sisters, Charlotte and Caroline. 

The film begins in Weimar in 1787 where Charlotte, the younger sister has been sent to live with her godmother Frau Charlotte von Stein (Goethe's paramour) in the hopes of finding a husband, preferably a wealthy one. The Lengefelds have fallen on hard times since the untimely demise of their aristocratic father. This forces Caroline to accept a marriage of convenience with Friedrich van Beulwitz to maintain their affluent lifestyle.

The sisters are quite close and even made a pact in their youth to always share everything with each other, shouting their pledge over the roaring sound of a raging waterfall in the German countryside. A pact with dire consequences which neither sister could resist nor escape easily from.

Soon enough,  Charlotte meets the struggling writer Schiller who was the toast of the literary scene based on his highly controversial novel "The Robbers." But he is basically penniless and it takes several long stretched sequences before Mama Lengefeld agrees to their union. Yet it is the more ambitious and flamboyant Caroline, trapped in a loveless marriage that pursues and manages to attract the attention of Schiller and they begin a passionate affair with the 'blessings' of her sister, Caroline.

Set in grandiose mansions located in the idyllic German countryside, the plot unfolds like a complex love triangle tale about loyalty, betrayal, and jealousy taken from the pages of a Jane Austen novel, except this was based on actual events. The eventual rise of Schiller as a literary icon during the Age of Enlightenment era was mostly inspired by his involvement with the two sisters. Both of them quite supportive in their own way of his meteoric rise amidst the backdrop of the brewing French Revolution which threatened their aristocratic existence.

I like the authenticity of the wardrobe as well as the horse drawn carriages, the use of the quill and the frequent letter writing between the characters. They also showed the innovations made in the development of the printing press industry and mentioned the sobering effect of the French Revolution as its ideals started spreading across Europe.

The characters were well developed and multi-dimensional, each of them with their unique personas, traits and characteristics. Contrasting personalities yet they are able to form good rapport and chemistry with each other's individual style.

Yet at over 3 hours long, certain sequences were too cloying like the part where the cast directly addresses the camera and read out loud their correspondences. The distracting voice-over which would appear intermittently throughout the entire film. 

Thankfully the last quarter of the long narrative became a bit more interesting as the two sisters really pour out their long suppressed sentiments about the importance of their unconventional arrangement. A dramatic shouting match added some much needed boost as the film finally winds down and draws the curtain on the very colorful life of Friedrich Schiller.

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