Directed: Ben Sombogaart
Country: The Netherlands
Language: Dutch, German, English, French
Genre: Drama, War
In 1926 in Germany, the twin sisters Anna and Lotte Bamberg are separated after the death of their parents. Anna stays in Germany with her ignorant catholic uncle and aunt in their small property, and Lotte, with tuberculosis, moves to Holland. Anna is not sent to school, to work in the farm, while Lotte is raised by an upper class family having good education. They do not have any contact with each other, but near the World War II they meet each other. Later Anna marries a young SS officer, while Lotte is engaged of a Jewish musician. Their lives follow different and opposite paths with the war. Anna never gives-up getting their reconciliation.
Movie ReviewsCologne, 1925, a pair of twins is separated following their father’s death. The healthier of the two stays with an aunt and uncle on their farm to do manual labor, while the girl with consumption is taken to Holland where she can live a life refinement.
Despite their individual attempts to write each other, their bull-headed guardians prevent it for fear of losing their half to the other family. A brief segment is seen in contemporary time; a haggard-looking old woman holds back from waking another elderly lady at a spa. Assuming these must be the twins, why doesn’t she wake her, we wonder? The past is again shuffled to, 1939, separated by a desaturated color scheme; Hitler is rising to power, and one teen is caught up in his propaganda, whereas the other in Holland has only begun to fear what he might do. Both have love interests: Anna, the poor girl, goes against her step-parents’ wishes by getting involved with a Hitler proponent, and Lotte, by now resolved from consumption, is smitten with a well-off Jewish boy.
Time passes before Lotte finally discovers all the letters she wrote to her sister were never sent (“They thought I was a quiet child, but I was talking to my sister all day long”); a concerted effort is made, and contact has finally been initiated. Before another break to the present can be made, through the excitement of their impending reunion, the question looms as to why the old lady hesitated to speak.
Director Ben Sombogaart has set up a balance, a triplicate of points in reference to the twins’ turning points shared by both. It becomes increasingly clear, particularly through the middle segment in their teens and twenties, how the separation remained permanent. When the old ladies are returned to, Anna reveals who she is only for Lotte to walk away, and when Anna pursues her into a park, Lotte makes it clear that she wants to be left alone. To make the reason why understandable, Sombogaart returns to the time of the war for the longest, yet most revelatory, stretch. For as each girl has led a totally autonomous life from the other, in experiences, education, societal influences, the togetherness of any ideals they shared as children have been pried apart. And because of the society, at least on Lotte’s behalf, the ideas she has of her own sister being a part of that other society colors her perception.
We learn, in fact, that after contact has been made, they do meet in Germany. (Touching moment: as a present, Lotte gives her sister the bundle of letters never sent.) An offhand comment by Anna about a Jew colors her sister’s impression and retracts her desire for the reunion to be a permanent one. It still isn’t till later in the park that the psychology and rationalizations are really laid out between the sisters and both are given the chance to talk and explain (though it is Anna who does most of the talking), bringing clarity to the enraptured but inquisitive viewer.
It is not without a certain level of patience that the answers are attained, primarily because Sombogaart uses the function of the present to increasingly hold back information. As the storyline during World War II gets deeper into the rift of the sisters, the stretches are longer and longer without returning to the present to advance that storyline. The good that comes from the deprivation of answers-on-demand is it allows a much stronger wallop once full disclosure has been made, before any further explication of the past can detract in the total amount of knowledge gained.
For at all times, Sombogaart is thorough in his storytelling, reservedly economic especially within the three sets of actresses used for Anna and Lotte. The most amount of dramatic weight is placed on the shoulders of Nadja Uhl (The Legend of Rita) and Thekla Reuten (Everybody’s Famous), both of whom vividly embrace the separational distinctions that cause irreparable damage to the direction their relationship could have taken. Rarely does it feel sentimental, but Sombogaart is sympathetic to the characters and stresses the emotion in their plight at the same time as making the dual growths apart from each other palpable in their sad situations.
It’s clenching and gripping cinema, exhibiting how far the monstrosities of war can trickle down to have such a personal effect, yet without downplaying the reach of its effects, either. Strong performances also from Gudrun Okras, Ellen Vogel, Sina Richardt, and Julia Koopmans.
[Absolutely to be seen.]