Agnes and His Brothers (2004)

 “Day after day, I put up with your bodily discharges.”

The German film Agnes and His Brothers (Agnes und Seine Bruder) takes an intimate look at the private lives of three very different siblings. There’s Werner (Herbert Knaup)–a Green Party politician–once a radical and now a rabid capitalist, Hans-Jorg (Moritz Bliebtreu) a frustrated librarian whose encounters with the opposite sex leave a lot to be desired, and Agnes (Martin WeiB) a transsexual who dances at a nightclub.

Of the three siblings, Agnes seems to be the most collected. Although she’s in a troubled relationship when the film begins, she possesses an inner, inviolable serenity. On the other hand, Werner has a horrible, out-of-control home life. His radical past is just a memory, and now he’s mired in domesticity and capitalism. His flashy wife Signe (Katja Riemann) spends her days sunbathing and shopping, and her nights are spent avoiding any intimacy with Werner–using a variety of methods designed to crank up Werner’s frustration. Their spoiled brat son Ralf (Tom Schilling) maintains a crop of marijuana in the lavish back garden and videotapes his father’s most intimate and embarrassing moments.

While Werner’s miserable marriage is a daily nightmare, single brother Hans-Jorg’s life at the library is agony too. Dozens of half-dressed, leggy girls swarm around the library, and their presence tantalizes Hans-Jorg. Meanwhile, Hans-Jorg attends sex addicts meetings in the evenings, and satiates his sterile social life with a blow up doll and stolen moments in the women’s bathrooms.

The three siblings take a trip to visit their antisocial reclusive father, Gunther (Vadim Glowna) who lives under strange circumstances inside a walled compound. He’s full of stories of Stammheim and the Red Army Faction, but how much of this is true and how much is fiction is a matter of speculation. Thrown into this dysfunctional family’s structure is Hans-Jorg’s insistence that as a child, he witnessed their father molesting Agnes.

While the characters in Agnes and His Brothers could belong in an Almodovar film, the film lacks Almodovar’s generosity of spirit and his delightful world vision. But there’s a definite Fassbinder influence here seen in the depth of writer/director Oskar Roehler’s message (keep an eye open for Fassbinder actress Margit Carstensen). But if you are looking for a new Fassbinder or a new Almodovar, you’ll probably be disappointed–while the film contains shades of both of these great directors, Oskar Roehler has his own unique vision. Apart from taking a sharp look at a very dysfunctional family, the film also makes a statement about modern Germany. The RAF generation has produced radicals that have morphed into establishment politicians, unhappy, and largely ineffectual capitalists whose major triumph is the passage of a container deposit bill. And finally, Hans-Jorg’s destination at the end of the film, seems absurd. But given the context, and Hans-Jorg’s background, it really isn’t. In German with English subtitles.

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