Set against the backdrop of 18th Century Germany and the French Revolution, Dominik Graf’s Beloved Sisters is a curious romantic, historical film that brings sisterhood and youthful friendship-pacts to disturbingly new heights.
The story revolves around Caroline von Beulwitz and Charlotte von Lengefeld, two closely-knit sisters of aristocratic means. As the story unfolds, we learn that Caroline unhappily weds an older man of wealth, so that she can keep her mother and sister Charlotte out of the poor house, since any wealth the family may have had, has long dissipated. Madame Lengefeld, with whom Charlotte resides, is on a mission to find Charlotte a husband of class and prosperity, and is shocked to discover the girl speaking from the window to a young man in tattered clothes who walks by and asks Charlotte for directions.
The derelict in question turns out to be the renowned poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, which obviously means nothing to Madame Lengefeld at the time. One thing leads to another and fairly soon Charlotte falls in love with Friedrich, which seems problematic enough considering the class issue. But what further complicates the situation is that married sister Caroline falls for the same man, and Charlotte doesn’t seem to mind.
Suddenly Beloved Sisters seems “curioser and curiouser,” to quote Lewis Carroll’s Alice, and the film acutely emotes what would happen if François Truffaut’s The Woman Next Door teamed up with Guy Maddin’s Heart of the World, and extreme melodrama devolved into twisted comedy.
What makes Beloved Sisters live and breathe, despite some overly long letter-writing-and-reading scenes, is that the situations depicted are timeless and universal. What is disquieting about Graf’s film is that time does not mature any of the characters involved, nor are any of Graf’s “true” characters likeable in any way. Speaking of truth, other questions to ponder while viewing the film are who, if any, are the true victims in Beloved Sisters, and are human relationships ever as true and beautiful as the poet-philosphers endlessly believe they can be?