Germany, 1926. After the death of their parents, 6 year-old twin sisters Anna and Lotte Bamberg are separated. Anna remains in Germany, living in harsh conditions on the farm of her uncle Heinrich (Ingo Naujoks) and aunt Martha (Margarita Broich). Lotte, who is suffering tuberculosis, is taken to The Netherlands to live with wealthy distant relatives Ferdinand and Henriette Rockanje (Jaap Spijkers and Betty Schuurman). Though desperate to remain in touch Lotte (Thekla Reuten) and Anna (Nadja Uhl) are prevented from corresponding or meeting by the cruel actions of their adoptive families. Lotte, who has fallen in love with Jewish music student David de Vries (Jeroen Spitzenberger), discovers the truth about her undelivered letters and visits Anna in Germany just prior to the outbreak of WW2. The long separation and Anna's easy acceptance of Nazi rule creates a division that tears the sister's bonds apart. Many years later at a Belgian health spa, the elderly Anna (Gudrun Okras) seeks reconciliation with Lotte (Ellen Vogel).
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Just a notch above a Hallmark Hall of Fame telemovie, Twin Sisters is an enormous disappointment that simply doesn't justify its inclusion in the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars. Shot with what looks like a number 3 fog filter permanently in front of the lens, this adaptation of Tessa de Loo's acclaimed novel is overlong by at least 20 minutes and rolls out every dramatic cliché in the book as the Bamberg twins are separated first by family tragedy and then by the political divide of wartime Europe.
There is a heart-wrenching story just waiting to emerge from the themes this story touches on but not much of it is realised under Ben Sombogaart's somnambulistic direction of a screenplay littered with tired and clunky dialogue that favours bombastic pronouncements of the exceedingly obvious over subtler investigations of separation and loyalty.
What it does have in its favour are splendid performances by all six actresses who portray Anna and Lotte from childhood to old age. Thekla Reuten (Lotte) and Nadja Uhl (Anna) occupy the bulk of screentime as the 20 year-old sisters and both apply such conviction to their roles it saves the drama from ploughing into the depths of pure soap opera. There are some evocative scenes contrasting Anna's harsh farm life in Germany and Lotte's privileged upbringing in Holland but Twin Sisters fails to make the grade in the big, emotion-charged scenes that really count once the action moves into WW2 itself and the occupation of Holland. When Anna's Austrian boyfriend Martin is called to the front, all we're given is the old "will you wait for me" chestnut that should have been consigned to the dead dialogue office fifty years ago. Similarly, scenes in which Lotte's Jewish sweetheart is sent to Buchenwald and her family gives shelter to his family, fail to carry the tension and emotional impact they demand.
I came to Twin Sisters wanting to be affected by the story of lives fractured by fate. A long two hours and fifteen minutes later I was left wondering how such promising material had been crippled by pedestrian direction and visual treatment that should only be applied to adaptations of Mills and Boon romance novels.
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TWIN SISTERS (M)
(Netherlands / Luxembourg)
CAST: Thekla Reuten, Nadja Uhl, Ellen Vogel, Gudrun Okras
PRODUCER: Hanneke Niens, Anton Smit
DIRECTOR: Ben Sombogaart
SCRIPT: Marieke van der Pol, Tessa de Loo (novel)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Piotr Kukla
EDITOR: Herman P. Koerts
MUSIC: Fons Merkies
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michel De Graaf
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 3, 2004
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.