"Agnes and His Brothers" reps a Teutonic version of "American Beauty" with added dysfunctionality. Fest darling Oskar Roehler juggles the stories of three brothers (one now a woman) trying to escape the real and perceived childhood traumas that scar them, but in shuttling between drama and farce, more than a few balls get dropped.

Unspooling like a Freudian wet dream, complete with anal fixation, Oedipal conflicts, possible child molestation and a transsexual title character, “Agnes and His Brothers” reps a Teutonic version of “American Beauty” with added dysfunctionality. Fest darling Oskar Roehler juggles the stories of three brothers (one now a woman) trying to escape the real and perceived childhood traumas that scar them, but in shuttling between drama and farce, more than a few balls get dropped. Hip hitmakers X Filme should rake in local coin, but pic will need top word of mouth to play offshore.

Sex-obsessed Hans-Jorg (Moritz Bleibtreu) is convinced his family’s neuroses stem from repressed memories of Dad (Vadim Glowna) molesting Agnes as a kid. He’s a nerdy librarian whose intimate relationship with his right hand gets him into trouble when his peeping tom act is discovered in the ladies’ room. There’s a cartoonish element to Hans-Jorg’s story, but his vicious attack on a mannequin abruptly changes the mood from comical to disturbing.

Older brother Werner (Herbert Knaup) seems more together, with a high-powered political job, a mansion in the suburbs, and a beautiful wife, Signe (Katja Riemann). Problem is, Signe seems more sexually interested in their son Ralf (Tom Schilling), who sets up surveillance cameras to catch Dad in his bizarre obsessive behavior at home, including taking a dump on the floor of his office.

Finally, there’s Agnes herself (Martin Weiss), exuding preternatural calmness on top of those high heels. The most sympathetic and real of the siblings, her motivations are only hinted at, never properly explored. What’s she doing living with loutish working class b.f. Rudi (Oliver Korittke)? When he throws her out, she’s taken in by kooky barfly Roxy (Margit Carstensen, seemingly a refugee from one of her own Fass-binder vehicles).

Roehler’s decision to rep each brother in a style peculiar to their characters may sound like a good idea, but results fragment the storylines and wreak havoc with a sense of rhythm. His usual themes of sexual obsession and inadequacy (previously explored in “Lust for Life,” “Suck My Dick,” and “Angst”) can be found here, although there’s a generally lighter touch than those earlier overheated works.

Roehler is fortunate with his cast, which represents a who’s-who of current popular German actors: Riemann (styled a la Annette Bening) won best actress in Venice last year for “Rosenstrasse,” Bleibtreu and Knaup were in “Run Lola Run” and even young Schilling has received awards. Weiss, least known of the group, brings a dignity and fragility to his scenes.

Tech credits are tops, although ironic choice of songs, amusingly intrusive the first few times, become annoyingly overused (and loud) in subsequent play.

Agnes and His Brothers

Germany

Production

Bavaria Film Intl. presents an X Filme Creative Pool production, in co-production with WDR/ Bayerischer Rundfunk/Arte. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Geisel-gasteig, Germany.) Produced by Stefan Arndt. Directed, written by Oskar Roehler

Crew

Camera (color, Cinemascope), Carl F. Koschnick; editor, Simone Hofmann; music, Martin Todsharow; production designer, Sabine Rudolph; costume designer, Lucia Faust; sound (Dolby SR-D), Rolf W. Hapke; sound designer, Kai Tebbel; line producer, Marcos Kantis; casting, Simone Bar. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 5, 2004. Running time: 116 MIN.

With

Martin Weiss, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Katja Riemann, Tom Schilling, Susan Anbeh, Vadim Glowna, Margit Carstensen, Lee Daniels, Marie Zielcke, Oliver Korittke, Martin Semmelrogge, Martin Feifel, Sven Martinek.

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