The Dutch film Twin Sisters resembles a compressed version of the kind of stately mini-series screened on quality TV.
It uses a familiar story device for surveying the turbulent events of the last century: two siblings are split up in childhood, each going on to experience very different lifestyles. The rift between them stands for the pain of all who, in real life, suffered similar traumas.
The twin siblings in focus here are Lotte (Thekla Reuten) and Anna (Nadja Uhl). While Anna remains as an oppressed worker in a Germany soon be overrun by Nazism, the sickly Lotte experiences being taken away by relatives to enjoy a pampered life in the Netherlands.
As we pass back and forth between the twin trajectories of these sisters, we note the paradoxes. Anna has to fight for the right to read books and study, while Lotte becomes so bored with her classical education that she only wants to flirt with a favourite boy.
The sisters are kept apart by the soulless machinations of their respective minders. But even when they do manage to reunite, much divides them: class, manners, and dreaded ideology. Eventually, Anna marries a German man who is inducted into the SS, while Lotte becomes attached to a Jew.
All of this is rich material for a European melodrama saturated in politics and history. But director Ben Sombogaart and writer Marieke van der Pol (adapting Tessa de Loo’s novel) arrange this panorama in a clunky, plodding way.
When the sisters are apart, the film devotes too much energy to finding clever ways of cutting from one to the other – transitions constructed on a word, object, gesture or piece of music. The effect quickly becomes tiresome and predictable.
When the sisters are together, the film pulls back from really confronting its material. As in so many historical epics of this type, the great events of the century tend to happen indirectly or off-screen to other countries – leaving our heroines to react weepily as they read telegrams or listen to the radio.
The other major problem with Twin Sisters is its lacklustre framing story, showing an elderly Anna (Gundrun Okras) pursuing Lotte (Ellen Vogel) into the woods for a long-avoided chat. The film is so keen to engineer a reconciliation that it virtually drops its exploration of politics altogether. As Anna cries: “If we two cannot talk to each other now, who in this world can?”
© Adrian Martin June 2004