Young Goethe in Love (Goethe!)

Young Goethe in Love

Note to Twilight fans - these aren't vampires! They just SHOULD be!

(2010) Biographical Drama (Music Box) Alexander Fehling, Miriam Stein, Moritz Bleibtreu, Volker Bruch, Burghart Klausner, Henry Hubchen, Hans-Michael Rehberg, Anna Botcher, Stefan Haschke, Xavier Hutter, Oscar Weidner, Guido Lambrecht, Vitus Wieser. Directed by Philipp Stolzl


Writers have a tendency to use their own lives for inspiration. Their experiences become kind of a template on which their best works are based. Some of the best templates are those based on terrible experiences.

Johann Goethe (Fehling) – with an “oe” – is a writer, or he wants to be. His poetry and drama up to that point hadn’t been well-received. His father (Hubchen) wants him to be a lawyer but Goethe is a bit too flighty for that. He fails the law exams, doing a mocking little dance afterwards and writing the words “kiss my ass” in the snow. Dear old dad sends his unruly son from the big city lights of Frankfurt for the country seat that is Wetzlar where his father has enough pull to get him work as a clerk for the local prosecutor Johann Christian Kestler (Bleibtreu).

Kestler is a bit of a stickler and one of his junior clerks, Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem (Bruch) – a terrible stammerer and a somewhat shy nebbish to boot – is given Goethe to take under his wing. The two become fast friends and Jerusalem takes Goethe to a dance, where Goethe – urban sophisticate that he was – is terribly bored.

That is, until he meets Charlotte Buff (Stein), a plain-spoken country girl with a voice like an angel and a face to match. He becomes completely smitten with her. Riding off into the country, he meets her again and spends an afternoon baking bread, playing with her many younger siblings and playing the clavichord. It becomes plain that she has feelings for him as well.

Jerusalem has become enamored of a married woman and is entertaining thoughts of running away with her once she leaves her husband. Even Kestler, Goethe’s boss, has found someone and enlists Goethe’s help in wooing her. Goethe, happily in love, is only too pleased to help someone else find what he has found. Goethe is as blissful as a man can be.

That’s usually when the floor disappears from beneath your feet and thus it is with Goethe. Jerusalem’s mistress has decided to stay with her husband and it turns out that the object of Kestler’s affection is Charlotte, who because of her family’s dire financial situation has agreed to become engaged to Kestler who is far more prosperous than Goethe. A distraught Jerusalem commits suicide in front of Goethe and now he is under arrest for illegally dueling. Will he survive to write Faust?

Of course he will. The trouble with biographical movies is that you know that the threats of suicide are mainly bluster and won’t be acted upon, at least not successfully. The events here correspond to the events that Goethe used to base his first great novel on, The Sorrows of Young Werther which combined all of the main characters into a love triangle. It was such a sensation that it spawned copycat suicides among the lovelorn.

The period is well-depicted here, from the brutality of Teutonic justice to the wide disparity between wealth and poverty. The cast here is solid and bring life to long-dead figures of history. Fehling’s Goethe is mischievous, somewhat anti-authoritative and full of piss and vinegar. I will admit this is a bit at odds with the Goethe that I knew, a stolid conservative who very much seemed to reject the tenets of following one’s heart in favor of trusting one’s logic. Still, even Goethe had to be young once.

Stein is a real beauty and it’s easy to see why Goethe would fall so hard for her Lotte. Stein and Fehling make an appealing couple and turn this into one of the most appealing onscreen literary romances since Shakespeare in Love. The similarity in the titles of the movies isn’t necessarily coincidental.

I am to understand that certain liberties have been taken with historical accuracy but that is to be expected – after all, if you want to learn something, there’s always the Discovery Channel – or wonder of wonders, actually reading a book. The Twilight set will appreciate the hopeless nature of the love between Goethe and Charlotte even if they have not a clue who Goethe is or his significance in literature – it is not an unmerited claim to state that without Goethe, it is unlikely Twilight would have come to pass.

The movie has a goodly amount of romance, a bit of intrigue and a quiet sense of fun. There is humor, drama and even a bit of sex. It’s entertaining and while some might grumble about subtitles, there is a certain sense of humor here that is appealing. It’s a wonderful movie well worth seeking out in your local art house or failing that, on home video when it is released in that medium next spring.

REASONS TO GO: Most Americans are unfamiliar with Goethe, his work and his life so it’s a good way to find out more about one of the world’s great literary figures.

REASONS TO STAY: Subtitles are a hassle for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a couple of disturbing images and a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bleibtreu provided the voice for Flynn Rider in the German version of Tangled.

HOME OR THEATER: The beautiful German countryside deserves to be seen on the big screen.


TOMORROW: Behind the Burly Q



Me...and my...shaaah...dow!!!

Me...and my...shaaah...dow!!!

(New Line) Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, Helen Mirren, Eliza Hope Bennett, Jim Broadbent, Sienna Guillory, Jennifer Connelly, Jamie Foreman, Rafi Gavron, Roger Allam (voice), John Thomson, Steve Speirs, Matt King, Stephen Graham. Directed by Iain Softley.

Few things in our experience are as powerful as the written word. With it, we can inform, entertain, transport, amaze, horrify, shock, save and titillate. Even in this electronic information age, most of us still get our information by reading something, whether on a printed page or on a computer screen. The most glorious thing is that the written word still has the power to fire up our imaginations to the point where the limitless is possible.

However, there is a far more dangerous magic in the written word. Certain people, called silvertongues, can literally bring the pages of a story to life when they read it aloud. The drawback is that when a character from a fictional universe is brought to the real world, a real person must be sent to the fictional universe to balance things out. As you might guess, people with this gift are few and far between, and those that do have it tend to keep it on the down-low if they use it at all.

Expert bookbinder Mo Folchart (Fraser) learned the hard way about the dangers of this gift. Reading aloud a fantasy story called Inkheart, he drew two characters from its pages; Dustfinger (Bettany), an itinerant fire juggler whose heart is in the right place, but whose courage and integrity are lacking, and Capricorn (Serkis), a genuinely menacing villain who cheerfully plans world domination with an urbane smoothness that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie. While Dustfinger desperately wants to return home to his wife (Connelly in a very small role) and kids, Serkis prefers this world, where guns and Silvertongues make evil easier.

 What compels Folchart is that his wife Resa (Guillory) was sucked into the pages of Inkheart to replace Capricorn. Now he travels Europe with his precocious daughter Meggie (Bennett) in tow. Meggie is frustrated that she is aware something odd is going on, and is bothered by the nagging feeling that her father knows a lot more than he’s telling her, particularly about her mother’s disappearance. She gets the feeling somebody is chasing him, even as he is searching for something, a specific book.

When Dustfinger catches up with Folchart, the bookbinder is none too pleased to see him. In fact, Folchart runs away with Meggie, barely escaping the grasp of the juggler. Folchart and Meggie head to the home of Great-Aunt Elinor (Mirren). She is abrasive and unfriendly, but once you get past the outward unpleasantness she actually is loyal and loving. Still, she’s unprepared for her sanctuary to be invaded by men with evil intent, and her beloved antique book collection torched.

A desperate Dustfinger has led Capricorn’s men to Folchart, and the bookbinder, his daughter and Great-Aunt Elinor are taken to Capricorn’s castle, where he has a collection of creatures from the pages of fiction – the flying monkeys of “The Wizard of Oz,” the minotaur from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” the Tick-Tock crocodile from “Peter Pan” and the unicorn from the tales of King Arthur. The villain there reveals his plans – for Folchart to bring into this world a truly terrifying monster from the pages of Inkheart – the Shadow.

Director Softley has things like Hackers and K-PAX to his credit, which doesn’t really tell you how he did here. Filming in the beautiful Italian Riviera, as well as the Bourne Woods of Surrey, the cinematography has an otherworldliness that compliments the mood of the novel nicely. While it follows the plot of the Cornelia Funke novel it’s based on nicely, the movie is a bit less grim than its literary counterpart.

Fraser has been a capable action hero ever since his work in The Mummy and is proving to be quite a draw for family films as he showed in Journey to the Center of the Earth. He is less dashing and less heroic than other characters he’s played; his Mortimer Folchart is handicapped by his own guilt, and in trying to be protective of his daughter, causes her more pain than perhaps was necessary. I personally would have liked to see there be more of a rift between them – it’s hard to believe a 12-year-old girl would be too forgiving of a father who kept her in the dark most of her life about what really happened to her mother.

The central character in the book is Meggie, and while she technically is here as well, this isn’t her movie. Bennett is better than average in her performance, but when contending with actors the caliber of Mirren, Broadbent, Bettany, Fraser and Serkis, someone a little more memorable might have been better. She’s supposed to be the focus of the movie but she is clearly out of her depth here, so by default it become’s Mortimer’s story.

 My problem is that the writer gives these silvertongues immense power, but they rarely use it logically. Oh, when they’re forced to do it they can and will read things out of the classic stories, but for example when one silvertongue is imprisoned in a crypt with the Jim Broadbent character (who plays the author of Inkheart who is suffering from a massive case of writer’s block), while they are able to write all sorts of things for the silvertongue to read at the movie’s conclusion, they don’t think of writing something simple like “The locked door swung open of it’s own accord and the prisoners stepped out and escaped.” Of course, that would have made too much sense.

While the acting is top-notch, the special effects are nice and the scenery is beautiful, one of the problems I have is that this kind of movie needs a heart, something that will stay with the viewer long after they’ve gone home. Inkheart doesn’t have one. Bettany comes close, but his character is so weak-willed, and uses the excuse “I was written that way” to explain away his awful choices, so it becomes hard to root for him. Fraser is also curiously restrained; I think a little more Rick O’Connell might have served the movie better.

While this was ostensibly marketed for kids (and there were a bunch of them at the showing I attended), I wouldn’t characterize this strictly as a kid’s movie. Yes, the kids are going to enjoy this, but there is a great deal of violence and the Shadow is going to be far too scary for younger children. There is enough here, however, that make this a solid enough family movie that I can recommend without feeling guilty about it.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous scenery. Nice performances from the supporting roles. Nice fantasy action and a truly frightening villain.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lapses in logic. Some characters a bit too weak to really support. Lacks heart.

FAMILY VALUES: The Shadow is a bit much for younger children. There is also some violence, but all in all just fine for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author Cornelia Funke wrote the part of Mo “Silvertongue” Folchert with Brendan Fraser in mind.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Actress Eliza Bennett reads a passage from the book that didn’t make it into the movie. Using “Reading Rainbow” style visuals as well as illustrations from the novel gives the sequence some visual kick.


TOMORROW: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen