Directed By Dominik Graf
Opens January 9
A movie about Schiller—the German playwright, philosopher, and poet—and the two sisters who agreed to share him, body and soul, is likely to attract an American audience more interested in the sharing than the poetry. Director Dominik Graf has similar aims, but is less prurient (apologies, Americans) and keeps the first hour of the theatrical release—there’s also a longer, two-part TV version—sort of sedate. A ménage à trois remains a complicated proposition even in the age of Meetup polyamory, but instead of fleshy tones, Graf focuses on the glossy surfaces of 18th-century wine glasses and salons. His actors halt in large, half-empty halls, tremble in tableaux vivants, hang out of the open windows of long country houses, and run through sunlit Nature (and away from husbands who wish Schiller’s ideas of human freedom were less appealing to their wives).
Like those wives, Beloved Sisters throws open the familiar, lavender scented embrace of the period drama. A pretty Wikipedia page, it wants to scrutinize the Personal Life and where necessary sketch a précis of the actual Life’s Work. Therefore, before willowy, angelic Schiller (Florian Stetter) shows up, the von Lengefeld sisters, Charlotte (Henriette Confurius) and Caroline (Hannah Herzspring) often embrace each other. The older, Caroline, has married a rich but apparently repulsive man—who persists in being not really repulsive, here—to help support quiet Charlotte and their widowed mom. Charlotte, who loves Schiller, and loves her sister not a scintilla less, marries him after a summer the three spend frolicking and writing coded notes. She is prepared to be a bridge, she says, between her genius husband and her ambitious sister—a writer whom even Schiller, not fond of lady scribblers, respects. But Caroline doesn’t want Charlotte to be a living sacrifice, and flees. Schiller is sad, but shrugs. His other hopes likewise go sour—the French Revolution, in which he had such faith, gets summed here in a shot of blood flowing over the cobblestones (perhaps appropriately, subtle as a guillotine). The real Caroline wrote a biography of her brother-in-law after his death; no family affairs were mentioned. We may only have Meetup for a model after all.