Young Goethe in Love (2010) is finally making its stateside rounds after being released over a year ago in parent production country Germany. Originally titled Goethe!, Young Goethe in Love is based on the semi-autobiographical novel titled The Sorrows of Young Werther by classic German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The story is flamboyantly dramatic and comically charming in its approach to young love.
In 18th-Century Germany, Johann Goethe (Alexander Fehling, Inglorious Basterds) is an aspiring poet and law student. After failing his law exams, Johann is sent to a provincial court for reform. His father, a notable attorney, doesn’t believe in Goethe’s literary or poetic talents, considering them too feminine (yes, gender stereotypes are alive and well in the 1700s). While in for reform, Johann wins the praise and friendship of his superior Albert Kestner (Moritz Bleibtreu, Munich), befriends a bullied colleague named Wilhelm Jerusalem (Volker Bruch, The Reader) and falls madly in love with Charlotte “Lotte” Buff (Miriam Stein). As fate or classic romanticism would have it though, Lotte’s father has promised her hand in marriage to another man, and like a Shakespearian play, it becomes a tragicomedy with a bittersweet end.
Technically speaking about Young Goethe in Love, there is a sense of cohesion between the art, costuming, makeup and cinematography departments that creates a sense of immersion. The film is well-lit by Kolja Brandt with natural sources of light and candles – two types of light Brandt excelled with in North Face (2008). Lighting plays a key role beside character styling in creating and capturing the ambiance of the time period. Male characters were styled with wigs (in formal settings) or with their long hair combed and clubbed (tied back at the nape of the neck) and were dressed in breeches, stockings, shoes, long-sleeved shirts, coats and cravats. Female characters wore dresses with elbow-length sleeves tacked with lace engageantes and had hair that was a mass of curls. Blended together with the gritty scenery, unpaved streets and horseback transportation, it’s easy to see how a viewer could be entranced with Young Goethe in Love, which could also be attributed to the cutting of the film.
Editor Sven Budelmann (North Face) and Director Philip Stӧlzl (North Face) made wise decisions because there is a natural fluidity for the film’s time span. It’s also notable when a film is written to be and feels like a tragicomedy, meaning Young Goethe in Love provides allure and charm, comedy, sorrow and despair in nicely-timed intervals – it’s not a scale tipped in one specific direction but rather a dynamic journey (which is how most films should be). There is a very notable scene, when Johann and Lotte set out to meet one another and cross under and over perpendicular paths, respectively; it’s symbolic of their relationship, but also of Johann’s inner struggle to accept himself as a writer. The inner struggle of Johann and the portrayal of young love are depicted brilliantly by Alexander Fehling, who plays a confident, yet unsure young man dressed in the most colorful and bold attire. He plays opposite Lotte, acted convincingly by Miriam Stein as a woman torn between her domestic family duties and her desires to be in love and make her own decisions.
Young Goethe in Love is a film easily relatable if you remember how you felt in what is now called “puppy love.” It’s a story of enrichment and loss that despite being subtitled is universally acceptable no matter what language is spoken. Be warned though, parts of the movie feel a bit too contrived, especially the end. Young Goethe in Love is currently unrated but has brief nudity and mild language and runs 102 minutes.
NOTE: Young Goethe in Love is being shown at the St. Louis International Film Festival on November 14 or November 17 at 7:30 P.M. at the Landmark Theater: Plaza Frontenac.