Film Review: Sometime in August
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BERLIN -- Sebastian Schipper's "Sometime in August" presents a quandary: A seemingly happy couple, almost deliriously so, who runs away from that happiness. Or maybe unhappiness chases them and they let themselves get caught.
It's hard to sustain much interest in their dilemma though since the film's German director doesn't let a viewer get heavily invested in their happiness. This is a small art-house project that will see festival play and then probably spin off into European TV sales.
Schipper bases his screenplay loosely on Goethe's 1809 novel "Elective Affinities." That story sought to examine whether human passions were governed by the laws of chemical affinities and whether laws of science or chemistry impact such institutions as marriage or even simple human relationships.
Instead of Goethe's aristocratic couple in the first year of their second marriage, Schipper gives us Thomas (Milan Peschel) and Hanna (Marie Baumer), a modern-day couple in their thirties from Berlin, who buy a country house and plan to spend a summer fixing it up.
We get little introduction to them however. The film skips over who they are and what they do to rush off to a fairly stolid country home for their summer idyll. Everything is going smoothly when Thomas decides to invite his brother Friedrich (Andre M. Hennicke), hugely depressed over his failed marriage and business, to spend a few days.
As if in retaliation, Hanna invites her nubile goddaughter Angustine (Anna Bruggemann) to join them.
Each newcomer causes a different "chemical" reaction in Thomas. Friedrich's gloom turns Thomas into a whirlwind of nearly pointless activity. Augustine's youthful sexuality brings out his adolescent side. Hanna meanwhile pouts a lot.
Goethe seemingly was playing with notions of fate and free will but his work is generally considered enigmatic. For his part, Schipper shows a couple's equilibrium getting upset by outside forces, but he never establishes any reason why this should be.
Hanna's moodiness and seriousness suggest an almost manic aspect to her character while Thomas' predisposition to adolescent impulses scarcely needs an outside influence. In other words, left to their devices, these two would find ways to upset each other.
There is a tentativeness in the film about delving any further than superficial appearances. The four characters -- along with a brief, somewhat inexplicable appearance by Hanna's father and his absurd Russian girlfriend -- never really come alive.
The actors are all rather earnest and a score by English singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt wears soulfulness on its sleeve. But the film never gets at what ails these people. It must be bad chemistry.
Production: Film1 in association with NDR, ARTE and Senator Film Production
Cast: Marie Baumer, Milan Peschel, Andre Hennicke, Anna Bruggemann
Director-screenwriter: Sebastian Schipper
Based on the novel by: Johann Wolfgang Goethe
Producers: Henning Ferber, Marcus Welke, Sebastian Zuhr
Director of photography: Frank Blau
Production designer: Tamo Kunz
Music: Vic Chesnutt
Costume designer: Silke Faber
Editor: Horst Reiter
Sales: Bavaria Films International
No rating, 92 minutes