STUDIO: Miramax Home Entertainment
MSRP: $29.99
RUNNING TIME: 118 Minutes
• Original Dutch Language Track
• English, French and Spanish Subtitles

Think of a sister or brother who has been a lifelong friend and close companion for you. Now think about being torn away from that sibling before you were allowed to develop a relationship because of uncontrollable political circumstances, both familial and international. That is the subject of the Oscar-nominated Dutch film Twin Sisters (De Tweeling), directed by Ben Sombogaart. As you may know, an Academy Awards nomination is a marketing exec’s wet dream. It doesn’t always mean that much in the Best Foreign Film category, because we all know that it’s virtually impossible to boil down the wealth of amazing foreign films to just five titles at awards time. But, the nomination is enough to get a film lots of exposure when it hits the DVD market. And, it makes for a nice blurb on the cover.

"Men, how high do we stack our shit?" "THIS HIGH SIR!"

The Flick

Young Lotte and Anna are twin sisters in post-World War I Germany. At age six, the sisters lose their father to tuberculosis. Their mother died previously of cancer. Left with only feuding aunts and uncles to shelter them from the economic depression that set in after Germany’s defeat in The Great War, the sisters want desperately to cling to each other for comfort. It is at that point of greatest need that they are cruelly separated. Lotte, stricken with tuberculosis herself, is taken to live in the Netherlands by wealthy relatives. Anna stays in Germany on her aunt and uncle’s meager farm. The sisters don’t give up hope that they will be able to stay in touch, but their adult guardians set up barriers to prevent them from making contact because of the bitterness they feel towards each other. So the sisters must learn to live without each other, but their lasting bond remains in the back of their minds. Lotte recovers and begins to live a life free from want, while Anna struggles in poverty with strict guardians who won’t let her attend school and treat her like a common laborer.

"My goodness, the price of suet is getting out of control!"

Years later, as Adolf Hitler builds nationalism amongst the German people, teenage Anna is tempted by the opportunities implied by National Socialism. Her uncle warns Anna to avoid the propaganda, but she can’t resist the chance to change her life that Nazism seems to offer her. When the uncle finds out that she has been associating with a young Nazi Party enthusiast, he beats Anna severely. A local priest takes Anna from the farm to a convent, where she lives for another three years. Meanwhile, Lotte experiences the comfort and culture that comes from an upper-class existence. Insolated from the social revolution happening in Europe by loving parents, Lotte spends her time attending college and practicing her music. She meets a young Jewish man named David and falls in love. Everything seems rosy until one day Lotte finds a box containing all the letters she had written to her sister. Defiantly, she becomes determined to reconnect with Anna regardless of her parents’ reservations.

A customer of Jello’s world-renowned Pudding Spa enjoys a treatment.

While working as a maid, Anna receives a letter from Lotte. The sisters’ long-delayed reunion is finally possible. Anna soon takes a position as a servant for a wealthy German Countess and invites her sister to visit her at the Countess’ home. The reunion is short-lived, as British bombing raids soon force the Countess and her staff to move further east. During her visit, Lotte witnesses the inhuman arrogance thriving in German society. The sisters part on uncomfortable terms, realizing that their differences in philosophy may be too great to overcome.

As the war rages on and Germany’s victory seems less and less likely, Anna marries a young SS officer. Lotte, living in Holland with her family, experiences uncertainty for the first time as Germany invades her country. She plans to marry David, even though she isn’t sure she should. She hates the Nazis and feels ashamed to have been born a German. One day while the couple is traveling, David disappears. He has been taken to the prison camp at Buchenwald. Life becomes more difficult as Lotte gives up hope that David will ever come home, and her family struggles to survive under German occupation.

"If I rub you here will you get pregnant?"

After the war, Anna and Lotte have both experienced the greatest of losses. Anna desperately wants to reunite with her sister, but Lotte refuses to fulfill her wishes. She believes Anna, who spent the war in Germany, has contributed to her pain, if not directly then as an enabler of an ideology she despises. Anna pleads with her sister to understand that she had so few opportunities to live a different life, but Lotte closes her heart to her twin. Decades later the sisters meet again, but the white-hot emotions that tore them apart would not be cooled by the passing of time.

What a beautiful story. It’s a pitch-perfect mixture of youthful optimism and crushing loss. The screenplay, based on the bestselling novel by Dutch author Tessa De Loo, depicts the parallel lives of the two sisters with an even grace. At times, we see suggestions of the fabled telepathy that all twins are said to share. When Anna is at her lowest place emotionally, Lotte seems to feel her pain. When one sister achieves adulthood in spite the failings of the people around her, the other suddenly gains the strength to take the necessary steps to advance in life as well. There is also a noticeable reversal phenomenon at work. Anna has the hardest life at the beginning of the story but finds happiness while Nazi Germany is in its ascendancy. Lotte starts out with the pampered, almost bored life of the rich, but ends up a prisoner in her new homeland as well as her station in life. It is only in the period between the twins’ young womanhood and old age that their roles switch again.

The vase was a God. The women were Its supplicants.

The story interplays scenes from three stages of the twins’ lives. The casting of the six actors who play the sisters at different ages could not be better. We spend the most time with Lotte and Anna in their young adulthood period, before the start of WWII and just after it. Director Sombogaart interweaves the different stages of the twins’ lives in such a way that maintains the viewer’s interest throughout. He takes a story that could have been overly dramatic and makes it feel genuine. It’s also a pleasure to see a story set during World War II that doesn’t contain much warfare. The characters are greatly affected by the war and the central themes of social division and betrayal rely heavily on the war’s existence, but we don’t see any battle scenes. The war between nations provides the backdrop for a much more personal story. The battles here are of the emotional kind, between people with different life experiences and upbringings.

Not to diminish the extraordinary efforts of people in other parts of the world, but I’m humbled by the perseverance of the individuals and families who survived the war in Europe. This story is fictional, but it encapsulates the experiences of so many people who fought to survive one of the most vital tests of human strength and courage. I welcome more films like this one.

8.9 out of 10

"She knows we recycle the beer, doesn’t she?"

The Look

In filming a story set in three time periods, sometimes a filmmaker will employ different color palettes to give each part of the story it’s own visual tone. That technique is used here, but with subtlety. The scenes set in the 1920’s through 1940’s are desaturated somewhat, while the scenes set in the near-present show the full color of the wardrobes and environments of modern society. The quality of the 1.85:1 widescreen presentation is without noticeable flaws. It’s a very good transfer overall.

8.0 out of 10

Early tattoos had a practical application for the poor.

The Noise

As mentioned before, there aren’t any battle scenes that will require much effort from your audio equipment, but there are a few parts where the Dolby Digital 5.1 track enhances the viewing experience. The musical score sounds great with its requisite sorrowful strings adding emotional depth to the proceedings. The score is mildly reminiscent of the Schindler’s List soundtrack and, like that film, it succeeds in telling the story with musical notes at those times when pictures aren’t enough. The original Dutch language track is included for those who can speak Dutch (and the rest of us who want to hear the original theatrical audio).

7.0 out of 10

The young Miss Mola Ram enlisted a more pleasurable technique.

The Goodies

While away the hours watching the film with English, French and Spanish subtitles, because those are the only extras you’ll get with this disc. How shameful. It would not have been so hard to include a short featurette on the production, an interview with the director and cast, or a trailer. I guarantee this film had a trailer. Where’s the marketing guy who secreted night fluids over the Oscar nomination? Get him to find me a trailer.

1.0 out of 10

"I think that’s a bear. Hold this cookie while I survive over there."

The Artwork

Typical floating head boredom. There is a great scene early in the movie where one of the twins jumps in a creek to collect some roses floating in the water. While she’s under the water, roses clutched in her hand, her sister swims in from the other side of the screen. A picture from this scene is used as the main menu screen on the DVD. That should have been the cover. I couldn’t find an image of the theatrical poster, but I can’t imagine that it was any less original than the DVD cover. The women are beautiful, but a little less superficiality in the cover art would have served the movie better.

5.0 out of 10

Overall: 8.0 out of 10