DVD Review: Young Goethe in Love

STUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Philipp Stölzl | CAST: Alexander Fehling, Miriam Stein, Moritz Bleibtreu, Volker Bruch, Henry Hübchen
DVD RELEASE DATE: 4/24/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.95
BONUSES: featurettes
SPECS: NR | 102 min. | Foreign language drama romance | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | German with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Tagged as an “historical flight of fancy” in its publicity materials, German filmmaker Philipp Stölzl’s gorgeously photographed and richly detailed period romance Young Goethe in Love follows the outline of Goethe’s first great literary success, 1774’s The Sorrows of Young Werther with the author himself as protagonist.  There is a suicide (like Werther’s) but, obviously, it’s not Goethe.

Young Goethe in Love movie scene

Alexander Fehling falls for Miriam Stein in Young Goethe in Love.

After failing his law exams, mocking his bewigged professors and frittering his time away writing “worthless rhymes,” Goethe (Alexander Fehling, Inglourious Basterds) is sent by his father to the country town of Wetzlar to work as a law clerk. Here, he impresses the court counselor, Albert (Moritz Bleibtreu), and romances an earthy local girl, Charlotte (Miriam Stein). Love blossoms, but duty and responsibility intercede. Goethe himself is about to usher in the Romantic Era of feelings. But it is still the Age of Reason and the conflict will being the young poet face-to-face with the Erl-King (Death), himself.

Like some sugary German confection, the first half of Young Goethe seemed almost too sugary: All youthful hijinks and bucolic charm (including Goethe’s erotically tinged nude romp with his best friend). But the sweetness is justified as the second half descends into darkness and our hero stumbles through a carnival high on belladonna and confronts a character who will dominate his output: The Devil.

The acting is vivid and theatrical. Alexander Fehling brings physical exuberance and lacerating depths to the title role. Equally impressive, Moritz Bleibtreu is brilliantly awkward as Albert, trying to maintain his dignity against an emotional onslaught. And Miriam Stein’s ruddy and robust charms justify all the attention and make her final choice painfully inevitable.

Goethe original novel inspired a wave of suicides among young neurasthenic Europeans. I doubt this film will do the same. Whatever historical accuracy, it’s an engrossing, visually intoxicating brew. For a writer who inspired so much great music (Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade” is referenced in the soundtrack), let’s call it “Variations on a Theme of Goethe.”

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About David

David Leopold is an actor, writer and videographer who would take a Sherpa ride up a Tibetan mountain to see an Edwige Feuillère movie.