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Love in Thoughts

Based on the once-notorious "Steglitz Student Tragedy" of 1927, period drama "Love in Thoughts" applies a heavy dose of swoony, doomed romanticism to tale of five youths whose tangled passions end in murder and suicide. Like its protags, pic is attractive, moody and inclined to take itself awfully seriously.

With:
With: Daniel Bruehl, August Diehl, Anna Maria Muehe, Thure Lindhardt, Jana Pallaske, Verena Bukal, Julia Dietze, Christoph Luser.

Based on the once-notorious “Steglitz Student Tragedy” of 1927, period drama “Love in Thoughts” applies a heavy dose of swoony, doomed romanticism to tale of five youths whose tangled passions end in murder and suicide. Like its protags, pic is attractive, moody and inclined to take itself awfully seriously. Result is a pretty but depthless series of poetical-melancholy postures that never quite convinces, despite factual basis. Re-teaming of smash “Goodbye, Lenin!” co-scenarist (Achim von Borries, directing this time) and star (Daniel Bruehl) could give it a boost in Euro territories.

Self-styled bohemian artist-philosopher Guenther (August Diehl) and sexually precocious Hilde (Anna Maria Muehe) are rich-kid siblings. Former’s friend, working-class Paul (Bruehl), is a fellow prep school student who’s smitten with Hilde — like everyone else. She’s willing enough, but as an emancipated Free Love advocate can hardly entertain a concept so corny as faithfulness. She also has a pre-existing relationship with strapping Hans (Thure Lindhardt) … and Hans has been known to dally with Guenther. Then there’s Hilde’s somewhat wallflowerish chum Elli (Jana Pallaske), who has a yen for Paul.

Longing and jealousy flare over the course of a weekend spent largely at a lakeside summer house. There, the assembled get drunk, frolic in their lingerie, jump over a bonfire, go skinny-dipping, quote Goethe, hallucinate on absinthe, write poetic odes to one another, have sex and sulk a lot.

Principals slink back to Berlin on Sunday, each now somewhat abashed and/or depressed. It becomes clear Hilde and Hans only have eyes for each other, thus crushing the amorous hopes of Paul and Guenther. Full of self-pity (as well as alcohol), latter duo draw up a “suicide club” pact vowing to “end our lives at the moment when we don’t feel any more love … (and) kill all those responsible for taking our love from us.” Given the tale is bookended by sequences of one surviving protag being interrogated by police (and Guenther has been toying with a handgun all weekend), it is clear tragedy looms.

Aiming for a mod mood of youthful hedonism and alienation, “Love in Thoughts” is appointed handsomely enough, yet otherwise plays loose with period flavor. Hence one character, offering a dose of “green fairy” absinthe, smirks “Up for a little trip tonight?” When the cast is supposed to be doing the Charleston, they look like hippies vaguely interpretive-dancing at a 1920s-themed costume party. (Amazingly, end credits actually list a choreographer.)

Nor are perfs particularly pushed to mimic another era’s comportment. Lead thesps are OK, but both script and direction err in assuming that having them endlessly stare at one another with feigned desire or anguish will provide all the emotional intensity (let alone psychological depth) needed.

Best elements in medium-budgeted but polished package are Jutta Pohlmann’s high-def lensing, which milks the countryside for every dewdrop of postcard beauty; and an aptly dolorous, piano-based score by Thomas Feiner and Ingo L. Frenzel.

Popular on Variety

Love in Thoughts

Germany

Production: A Beta Cinema presentation of an X Filme Creative Pool production in association with ZDF/Arte. Produced by Stefan Arndt, Christophe Mazoder, Manuela Stehr. Directed by Achim von Borries. Screenplay, von Borries, Hendrik Handloegten, based on original material by Annette Hess and Alexander Pfeuffer, and the novel "The Suicide Club" by Arno Meyer Zu Kueingdorf.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Jutta Pohlmann; editors, Gergana Voigt, Antje Zynga; music, Thomas Feiner, Ingo L. Frenzel; production designer, Ulrike Andersson; costume designer, Nicole Fischnaller; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Schuhmacher; assistant director, Sebastian Fahr; casting, Simone Bar. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 23, 2004. Running time: 89 MIN.

With: With: Daniel Bruehl, August Diehl, Anna Maria Muehe, Thure Lindhardt, Jana Pallaske, Verena Bukal, Julia Dietze, Christoph Luser.

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