Monday, February 17, 2014

Twin Sisters (2002)

Director: Ben Sombogaart                              Writer: Marieke van der Pol
Film Score: Fons Merkies                              Cinematography: Piotr Kukla
Starring: Thelka Reuten, Nadja Uhl, Ellen Vogel and Gudrun Okras

Twin Sisters (De Tweeling) is an interesting Dutch film about World War II and the divisions it created among people. In this case the people are twin sisters who were separated as children. The two were very close, but after their parents died they were split up and forced to live with different relatives. Anna was taken to a German farm where she worked for penniless farmers and became a tough, no-nonsense girl. Lotte, on the other hand, was taken to Holland to live with rich relatives who nursed her through her childhood consumption and gave her all of the advantages their money could buy. What’s most intriguing is that early on in the film, the two are seen as old women at a health spa. Anna walks over to the other woman and strikes up a brief conversation. But when Lotte realizes it’s her twin sister, she simply gets up and walks away without a word. What happened to the two girls who were nearly inseparable as children? The answer lies during the war.

Things become clearer when the girls are next seen in 1936. The poor Anna, desperate for a way out of the poverty she seems forever mired in, is buoyed by the promises of the new leader of Germany. The farmers, he claims, are the first class of people and she wants very much to believe in a destiny that makes her something more than she is. She is smart, tough, confident and is motivated to get ahead. But Lotte, the audience soon realizes, is much more unsure of herself. She longs to reconnect with her sister, but the Germany she remembers is denigrated at every turn by her family because of its treatment of Jews, of which they have many as friends. At last that confrontation in the future seems inevitable. Through no fault of their own, the way in which they were raised and the countries they live in will determine the choices the girls make at a crucial periods in their lives . . . and forever put up a wall between them that the passing years will not be able to destroy.

The opening scenes where the girls are children is just a bit too precious. There’s something too obvious and calculated to allow for suspension of disbelief. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long. What the opening scenes do well, however, is to keep the plot obscure. The film is seen entirely from the girl’s point of view and, since they don’t know their relationship to the family members they are given to, the audience doesn’t know either. What comes out gradually is that their father’s side of the family was from Germany and their mother’s side was from Holland. When the girls get older they look quite different, and even when a young solder asks Anna she says nothing about them being fraternal twins. Anna is played by Nadja Uhl, a German actress with wide eyes and a thin face, while Lotte is played by Dutch actress Thelka Reuten, who has darker hair and a more robust physique. But they have an odd relationship that’s never quite believable onscreen.

The other aspect of the girl’s lives revolve around their romantic relationships. Uhl winds up falling in love with an Austrian soldier who eventually joins the SS. German actor Roman Knizka looks every bit the part of the Arian superman, though his loyalty to Hitler is one of appearances rather than conviction. In Holland Reuten is drawn toward pianist Jeroen Spitzenberger who tells her at one point that he looks like three Jews put together. As far as the production goes, it’s typical of an earlier period before the kind of digital color manipulation that has been seen for a long time in Hollywood. It would have benefitted from that greatly, but was undoubtedly not part of the budget. The modern sequences with the old women are also not as haunting as they might have been, but it is suspenseful to the end wondering what the outcome will be. Twin Sisters is not a great film and is disappointing on a number of levels. Still, there is a certain amount of interest to it and it’s not entirely a failure.

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