Tuesday, January 22, 2013

on the german landscape, and oh, how romantic it is

Some thoughts on the film Young Goethe in Love.

  Towards the end of 2011, or maybe the beginning of 2012, mostly on a whim, I went to see a German movie co-written and directed by Philipp Stölzl.  For reasons I cannot fathom, while its German title was, reasonably enough, Goethe, for English audiences they felt compelled to call it Young Goethe in Love.  I suppose the marketers figured no on in this country knows who Johann von Goethe was.
  Okay, okay, I know lots of people don't know who Goethe was.  For your edification, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German poet in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  He wrote one of the most famous versions of the story of Faust, fed into the very prettily-named sturm und drang movement ("storm and drive," or "storm and urge"), and in so doing also helped start the Romantic movement.  Also perhaps not so well known amongst Americans is that English speakers did NOT invent Romanticism; German-speakers did.  And the film is about a seminal period in Goethe's life, when he met Charlotte Buff and in falling in love with her felt inspired to write The Sorrows of Young Werther.  Which, incidentally, set off some of the first-known copycat suicides upon publication.
  Anyway, enough facts from the germanophile.  What I really want to say about the movie is that it was gorgeous.  At times the plot was simple, and, yes, romanticized; but I think we can let Stölzl have that given his subject matter.  I'm fairly certain that there was a bit of "cleaning up" of the images of the German landscape and all the young, beautiful Germans romping through it, but I suspect the landscape itself is real (and even the young, beautiful Germans).
  I don't know enough about the history of Romanticism to speak at length on the subject, but the movie did make me wonder if the German landscape itself — all that endless, rolling green; the rivers winding around hills; and the sort of always slightly askew look of very-well-built-but-also-very-damp houses in German towns — if maybe the attachment to that landscape might explain more about the emergence of Romanticism in Germany than a revival of interest in Ancient Greek literature.
  The love story was sweet, though my heart will always belong to the clear-seeing pragmatism of a Charlotte rather than the convinced idealism of a Johann.  And I did learn, as a result of seeing the movie, the somewhat chilling fact that in German there are different words for different kinds of suicide.  But in the end, I re-watched and ultimately bought the movie because of the visuals.  I've also been reading a lot of poetry by another German poet, Friedrich Hölderlin, another lover of the German countryside.  So it's on my mind.  But I think I will happily rewatch, over and over again, one shot:  from a distance of perhaps a mile or more, Johann and Charlotte approach each other from opposite directions, the clouds moving the shadows around the hills; the grass still, gold, and green; the trees moving with the unconcern of those who have watched this scene play out before.


  1. http://www.kino.de/kinofilm/toete-mich/98148

  2. That American culture is so terrified of death leads to an inevitable romance with it. Suicide in particular fascinates me. I've always thought it was interesting how much strange overlap there is between Japanese and German culture in all sorts of quirky ways, not the least of which is an acceptance of the reality of self-killing.

  3. Oh, and since this is a German film, I should probably clarify that when I say "American culture," I mean that I see it in myself. I am an American involved in a romantic relationship with death.