RELEASED EARLY LAST YEAR IN Germany, The Harmonists became a national sensation, winning awards and wide praise from critics. Now, having been tested in Europe, the movie (based on a true story) arrives on our shores. Every once in a while, a foreign movie with enough "heart," and inspired by universal themes--such as Il Postino or Like Water for Chocolate--can transcend our indifference to foreign languages. Does The Harmonists have the stuff to make this near-impossible crossover? Well, in some ways it does.

The story is simple. In 1927, six indigent Berlin musicians get together, work hard, and become a celebrated vocal group. They make lots of money. They tour Germany, Europe, and even America. They are surrounded by beautiful, smoky women and bottles of champagne. As Louis Armstrong once sang, they've "got the world on a string." Then in 1935, Hitler comes along and messes up everything. The Jews in the group, one of whom is responsible for creating the sextet, are told they cannot sing in Germany anymore. They sing one last song, cry onstage, and then break up. That is the end of the story.

The film's likelihood of success in the States is increased by the fact that it takes zero chances. There are no surprises at all, and the conflicts that connect the plot are transparent. For example, one involves a love triangle: two close friends, one Jewish, one Gentile, desire the same woman; her grace, insouciant nature, and dark intelligent eyes represent the potential that was Germany before the Nazis cast a tenebrous cloud across their world. Hmmmm.

The Harmonists is beautifully photographed (director Joseph Vilsmaier is also a professional cinematographer), and some light humor is sprinkled over the predictable narrative, as when one of the singers, an immigrant with a poor command of German, can't understand the line "Veronika, der Spargel wachst." It means "Veronika, the asparagus grows," and a whore is quick to let him know what it is all about. The Harmonists could easily become a hit here, but an important film, one that has real lasting value? No, The Harmonists is not that. Really, it's nothing special at all.