Sister Akte

Beloved Sisters still 4

BELOVED SISTERS, at nearly three hours, is a proper arse-marathon, and the lower back was feeling hard-done-by after hours in Filmhouse 3 watching Domenik Graf films all week. Fortunately this was his new film and thus got an upgrade to Odeon 2, where the seats exert a differing, slightly less intense set of discomforts. When I suggested a three hour film about the love live of Schiller, Fiona said — well, I won’t say what she said but it was in the negative and had “fuck” in it. This despite the fact that she’d heard my glowing reports of other Graf works and was curious to try one.

Once more, she missed out, as the movie was lively, well-observed and entertaining. Graf had told me that the film represented the third strand of his work, the Eric Rohmer side, contrasting with the fast genre stuff (DIE KATZE) and equally fast and furious social realist side (Hotte in Paradise). A quite accurate summary, and the movie also shows his love of Truffaut’s period/literary films. And it goes like a train — it doesn’t have the out-of-control momentum of something like Eine Stadt Wird Erpresst (A City is Blackmailed) whose throat-grip and cannonball velocity leaves the viewer both shaken and elated — but it doesn’t hang about either.

(PLOT: Poet Schiller falls in love with two sisters; a menage a trois is attempted; meanwhile, the French Revolution and the development of the printing press.)

Beloved Sisters still 2

Graf spoke of his deliberately flat filming style, avoiding steadicam pursuits and all those tricks whereby directors try to show that the past was as lively as today, and avoid theatricality. By contrast, Graf feels like people saw the world in more flat ways then (the stage, and paintings were their references, rather than AVATAR) and he avoids stiffness via his rapid pace (no fear of crash zooms), imaginative and surprising framing, and the naturalism of the perfs. Nobody behaves like characters in a historical drama. The language is classical, but the reactions, body language and everything else reminds us of us.

The only thing I was baffled by was the typography — Graf introduces temporal jumps (the story covers fifteen years) with titles which drift and zoom about restlessly — one even swoops down and up and at us like the famous STAR WARS main title. And they’re all in a faux-stencil font, in unpleasant not-quite pastel colours. Defiantly un-period and ill-suited to everything around them, as if Graf wanted to scribble a moustache on his own Mona Lisa, or irritate slightly just those people who normally enjoy quality period drama. Perhaps his punk side reasserting itself? Perversity is the noblest impulse.

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