Film-Forward Review: [AGNES AND HIS BROTHERS]

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Martin Weiss as Agnes
Photo: First Run Features

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Directed & Written by: Oskar Roehler.
Produced by: Stefan Arndt.
Director of Photography: Carl F. Koschnick.
Edited by: Simone Hofmann.
Music by: Martin Todsharow.
Released by: First Run Features.
Country of Origin: Germany. 115 min. Not Rated.
Language: German with English subtitles.
With: Martin Weiss, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Katja Riemann & Tom Schilling.

As three middle-aged brothers come to grips with each other, they reach pivotal moments in their otherwise depressing, sex-addled lives. The eldest, librarian Hans-Jörg (Moritz Bleibtreu), is a hopeless sex addict, though he doesn’t appear to have much sex. His leering eyes and too-tight polo shirts are played for laughs, creepy but endearingly awkward.

The second brother, Werner (Herbert Knaup), is just creepy. As a well-liked environmentalist politician, he is jovial and excels at dealing with the right people in the right ways, but as a husband and a father, he is a repressed man despised by his family. (His wife has refused to have sex with him for years, citing having to deal with his “bodily fluids” as a turn-off, while his filmmaker son blackmails Werner with footage of him defecating on a piece of paper in his office while taking an important business call).

But it’s the third brother, Agnes, who makes the film worth watching. Martin Weiss makes his film debut with stunning natural grace as a beautiful post-op transsexual, who apparently makes only wrong decisions in her own life but has noble tact when dealing with everyone else’s (as is the case with most Magical Movie Transsexuals). Although she is the youngest, Agnes is the mollifying element that glues Hans-Jörg, Werner and their father together. Their troubles are never far away from their childhood, as each remembers their alcoholic and sexually ambiguous father’s abuse of young, pre-op Agnes in different ways (Hans-Jörg cannot get past it, Agnes bears no grudges and simply accepts it, but Werner refuses to admit it even happened). Each brother’s flawed approach to dealing with their past informs their present failures. The question of which brother can change his life provides some truly heartbreaking twists by the time the credits roll.

Although watching Weiss’s serene and melancholy character is a thrill, his melodramatic storyline is the least eventful. After about a half-hour of watching Werner and Hans-Jörg bumble about like fools, you wonder when was the last time you saw Agnes and what she was doing. And then after getting your answer, it’s back to the antics of Werner and Hans-Jörg.

There are other problems, though. The tone of Hans-Jörg’s storyline is like a quirky sex comedy, Werner’s, a dead ringer for American Beauty and Agnes’, like an all-too-brief and all-too-sober vignette by Pedro Almodóvar – three different movies, all spliced together under one title. The brothers barely even interact with each other, even though the film’s best scenes are when two or more reveal themselves in their terse but intimate exchanges. Subtle and over-the-top as the situation demands, the writing and the acting are excellent, but the film would have been better as three segments strung together in sequence rather than a continuously jarring film. Zachary Jones
June 9, 2006



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