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The Berlinale Blog: Bringing home the Bear?

Germany has four films in competition. Three have been shown. We liked Jack but the foreign press is keen on Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) and the German press favours Geliebte Schwestern (Beloved Sisters). Eve Lucas is uneasy.

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Kreuzweg

If Dietrich Brüggemann’s Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) gets a Bear it won’t be with my undiluted approval. Although it’s a solid piece of filmmaking, following 14-year-old Maria (von Acken) from her last lesson prior to receiving the holy sacrament of confirmation to events immediately following the confirmation service, narratively linked by Brüggemann to Christ’s 14 Stations of the Cross. Officiating spiritually over this process is the thinly veiled Society of Saint Pius X (here, Saint Paul), who reject the Second Vatican Council, celebrate the Tridentine (Latin) Mass and have very strict views on mainstream Catholicism’s slide into modernism.

The camera work is practically static: one cut per scene (with very few exceptions, including two significant moments towards the end of the film): a great tool for expressing the straightjacket of religious fervor as Maria follows through on her decision to “give” her life to God in exchange for her little brother’s cure from the scourge of autism. The performances, if appropriately restrained, are also consistently measured, seldom breaking the flow of a very strictly paced narrative.

What’s missing here (again) is the empathy factor that comes with witnessing not just a battering but an actual struggle. There are counterparts (the family’s sympathetic French au-pair, a friendly fellow school pupil, a concerned doctor and tolerant teacher), but the dogmatic bias is firmly with Maria’s callously strict mother, spineless father and a black-frocked, charismatic priest (Stetten). Neither camera nor screenplay create the kind of extra spaces needed to show Maria properly fighting her corner in the spirit of adolescent rebellion. All piety aside, this is more a study in victimization than a dramatic exploration of doubt and dogma.

Dominik Graf’s Geliebte Schwestern (Beloved Sisters) occupies the other end of the stylistic spectrum as a lush period piece filmed largely at original locations in Weimar, Rudolstadt and Jena. The sisters are Caroline (Line) von Beulwitz (Herzsprung) and Charlotte (Lollo) von Lengefeld (Confurius) who live with a sprightly mother in relative comfort thanks to Line’s marriage of convenience. When young Friedrich Schiller (Stetten) comes to Weimar and then visits with the family in Rudolstadt, seeds are sown for a protracted ménage-à-trois. Schiller and Lollo marry. Line haunts their domesticity with “Sturm und Drang” passion.

Graf’s 170-minute excursion into the hearts and minds of Romanticism relies on an uneasy ménage-à-trois of its own. The written word dominates, as it must: the role of printing in the French Revolution, many letters either declaimed directly to camera or voiced over. In counterpoint, Graf posits animals in the courtyard realism (à la Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice) and scenes of intense physicality at rushing waterfalls, swiftly flowing rivers and in bed. It’s an inconsistently acted patchwork and inevitably, it feels patchy. Apparently, a mini-series is planned. In terms of individual patches, that could be a better format.

Kreuzweg (only) still to show: Feb 13, 21:30 (Thalia Programm Kino), Feb 16, 9:30 (Haus der Berliner Festspiele).