First, a word from our sponsors. Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay? Check out my new e-book published on Amazon: Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader, including my series of essays, What I Learned Reading for Contests This Year, and my film reviews of 2013. Only $2.99. http://ow.ly/xN31r
Beloved Sisters is the story of a sorta, kinda love triangle between the great playwright and poet Friedrich Schiller (one of the dramaturges from whom we get the phrase stϋrm and drang of which there is more than enough of in this period piece, thank you very much) and the two sisters whom he loved, one of whom he married, and both of whom he slept with.
It’s also one of these films in which the only reason the women have for existence is their love and passion for a man and when they can’t get him, they cry, beat their breasts, wail against the injustices of the universe, throw tantrums, have nervous breakdowns and finally have what is known in impolite society as a knockdown, drag out cat fight.
No, I’m not joking, they have a cat fight.
But even that’s not the worst of it.
The worst of it is just how slow, tedious and, well, to be ruthlessly honest, how…boring the whole thing is.
I mean, it may be German, but you ain’t gonna find no blitzkrieg here.
It certainly starts out well enough. It takes place in the period of First Empire, the same time in which Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility and Kiera Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice were set, when the French revolution and Napoleon were on the horizon, and the film has all the gorgeousness of that age to it. The costumes, sets, cinematography, everything has a nice, polished Masterpiece Theater shine to them.
And there is something to the underlying sexual tension that crops up here and there as the two sisters meet Schiller and slowly fall for him.
But instead of the movie being about three people becoming involved with each other, being driven by their passion into each other’s arms, into a triangle or even manage a trois, it’s actually more about how the three never really become that involved, no matter how close they are, and it’s more about how they constantly strive to not become a threesome.
In fact, there’s so little sex in the movie, one is surprised to find out that Schiller and his wife Charlotte actually had a number of children.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with an absence of action driving a movie. I mean, if the purpose of the movie is to be about people who struggle to not break free of conventions, then so be it.
But the movie lasts 170 minutes and all it seems to do is threaten to go somewhere, but just never does.
I suggest the main issue as to why nothing comes together is a structural one. The movie divides the story between three people: Schiller, his wife Charlotte, and her sister (the thirdsome in the threesome) Caroline.
But Schiller is the least interesting character in the drama. And if the story had solely focused on the two sisters, who are the ones the movie is really about (they’re even the title characters, for god’s sake) then the film might have gained the tension and forward momentum it so desperately lacks.
In fact, every time the movie focuses on the great writer, the whole thing just stops dead.
The movie is written and directed by Dominik Graf. Perhaps the most frustrating and anger inducing moment in the film is at the end when he reveals in a prolog that in actuality, no record of anything that took place between the three exists. Even Caroline, who later wrote a biography of Schiller, left no hint of what happened.
The only reference to a possible affair is a scrap of paper with a line or two referring to something vague that might suggest some hanky panky went on.
Okay, fair enough. But basically then, Graf had carte blanche to do just about anything he wanted, to come up with any plot, any twists and turns, any storyline that suited his purpose and historical facts be damned because, well, there just aren’t any.
And with that being the dramatic parameter? This, this film, this story is what he came up with.
With Hannah Herzsprung of The Reader and The Baader Meinhof Complex as Caroline; Henriette Confurius as Charlotte; and Florian Stetter of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days and Before the Fall as Schiller.
Germany’s entry in the 2015 Oscar foreign language film category (for some reason).
Predestination, the new sci-fi movie starting Boyhood’s Ethan Hawke, is one of those time travel movies where, if you try to figure it all out and try to see if it all holds together, you will probably get a migraine and have to take to your bed for a few days until the pain goes away.
But if you are able to go with the time flow, you’ll probably not only be able to enjoy this take on the space time continuum, but find it one of the better sci-fi films in recent years.
Hawke plays an agent for a future government agency who is sent into the past to try to prevent some especially egregious events from happening. Lately, he’s been sent to try to stop the fizzle bomber, a terrorist whose biggest bang took down a large number of New York blocks with a death toll of around 1,500. But try as he might, he is foiled each time and has to go back over and over again, with the side effects of time travel slowly getting to him.
The movie itself is a bit clunky at first and you do have to stay with it for awhile until it really starts working.
This clunkiness begins as Hawke, a bartender in a dive bar, meets a character called The Unmarried Mother played by Sarah Snook. When Snook first enters and says her first line, my first thought was, “Oh, God, are we miscast or what”. But after two or three more bits of dialog, you immediately figure out sort of what is going on and it gets better.
But still, there is something off about the story, because this Unmarried Mother begins to tell the Bartender the story of her life, but there really isn’t a strong enough motivation for her to do so. It seems forced and unconvincing and because of that, it’s unclear where the story is going, or even if it is going anywhere, and you’re frustrated because you don’t understand what any of this has to do with the fizzle bomber.
I do believe this section could have been written better, but still, once this story within a story is over, and the Bartender takes over driving the movie, the film begins to soar as the twist and turns begin to downpour like rain in a thunder storm.
A few of them, the first ones at least, you figure out really quickly. But this is one of those films where even if you are ahead of the game, it doesn’t matter. It’s not so much that you want to know if you are right in what’s going to be revealed, you think the twist is so clever, you can’t wait to find out how everyone on screen is going to react to the revelation.
In fact, the more ahead of the game you are, the more enjoyable the movie might very well be.
In the end, when all the puzzle pieces have been put together, you’re left exhausted as well as somewhat moved. Hawke is in one of those Mobius strip nightmare situations and you can’t help but feel for him.
The screenplay is by the directors, Michael and Peter Spierig (or as they are more commonly known, the Spierig brothers). They lately gave us the vampire movie Daybreakers, which was also extremely clever, but never ultimately came together in a wholly satisfactory manner.
But here, they seem to have done a masterful job of adapting their screenplay from a Robert A. Heinlein short story “All You Zombies”. Heinlein has always had a little fun with playing with fluid sexuality and here he perhaps comes across in his most impish and the Spierig’s seem to make the most of it.
I first have to say I haven’t read the original story, but from what I can tell, the fizzle bomber has been added as a way of bringing tension and focused purpose to the characters and plot, and, if so, it’s a marvelous and clever addition.
But whatever the genesis of the plot, Predestination is a marvelous jigsaw of a movie. Highly recommended.
With Noah Taylor (who played the younger version of David Helfgott in Shine and has been seen in everything from Almost Famous to Game of Thrones—he plays Locke—as well as Adolf Hitler in Max).