Dir. Achim von Borries. Germany. 2004. 90 mins.
The latest film from Stefan Ardnt's and Tom Tykwer's X Filme creative pool, Love In Thoughts (Was Nuetzt Die Liebe In Gedanken) made its world debut in the Sundance Film Festival's Premiere section. Like a dark fairytale, the film paints an achingly beautiful portrait of youthful impetuosity run to extremes. Based on a true story of a suicide pact that scandalised 1927 Berlin, it tells of five friends, three male, two female, who form what is best described as a love pentagon, and the tragedy that ensues when the pentagon collapses.
If Sundance seems an odd place to launch a European period film, it's worth noting it isn't a period film. Although set in the era of Weimar Germany there is no reference to the First World War or the looming presence of National Socialism; rather its flapper-era costumes and art deco set decoration are simply part of the atmosphere in a universal story of love and its destructive power. Its reminiscent in time and privileged tone of Brideshead Revisited, the popular 1980s UK television serial based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh, with its mutually attracted leading men and a free-thinking headstrong sister.
Paul (Bruehl) is young, handsome and a poet, ready to fall in love. His relationship with best friend Guenther (Diehl) is chastely homosexual, but when he meets his best friend's sister, Hilde (Muehe), he falls hard. Hilde, 16, is keenly aware of the stir she causes in the hearts of young men; she has several suitors but most ardent is Hans (Lindhardt), a baker's apprentice. This is problematic for Guenther because he is in love with Hans. Meanwhile, Hans is happy to keep both irons in the emotional fire. Each of these characters is more in love with love than with the objects of his or her desire. Only Elli (Pallaske), Hilde's demure and plain (by comparison with Hilde) friend, is grounded enough to recognise who she wants, namely Paul, and go after him.
While so many heaving breasts could distance the film from its audience, von Borries and co-screenwriter Handloegten keep the pace and the bodies moving. Younger audiences may better relate to the turmoil on screen but older ones will fondly recall the overwhelming sensation of being the first person in the history of mankind to fall in love. In many ways this is a film that John Hughes might have made in the Brat Pack heyday of Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey Jr, had Hughes explored his dark side and risked upsetting his audience.
Love In Thoughts will likely divide its audience between those who embrace the attractive cast and the live-fast, die-young premise and those who will dismiss the entire enterprise as shallow and naive. Bruehl (in a performance not far removed from that of Good Bye, Lenin!) and his ethereal co-star Diehl may seem too old for the roles of 18-year-olds but, as in Brideshead, the casting combination trumps realism. In their own minds, they are two young gods for whom existence is a one-way trip to the height of sensation. At a brisk 90 minutes, it's a trip many will find well worth taking.
Production co: X-Film creative pool
Backers: ZDF, ARTE, Filmboard Berlin-Bradenburg, Filmstiftung NRW, Filmforderungsanstalt, BKM, Mitteldeutsche Medienforderung
International sales: Beta Film (49) 89 9956 2422
Ger distribution: X-Verleih/Warner
Prods: Stefan Arndt, Christophe Mazodier, Manuela Stehr
Scr: Achim von Borries, Hendrik Handloegten. Based on the original work by Anette Hess & Alexander Pfeuffer based on the novel "The Suicide Club" by Arno Meyer Zu Kueingdorf
Cinematography: Jutta Pohlmann
Editors: Gergana Voight, Antje Zynga
Prod des: Ulrika Andersson
Music: Thomas Feiner, Ingo L Frenzel
Main cast: Daniel Bruehl, August Diehl, Anna Maria Muehe, Thure Lindhardt, Jana Pallaske