There was a time in our movie-loving town when the natural fit for the German film Beloved Sisters would have been either the Harvard Exit or the Seven Gables. But the former is gone, leaving the latter to cover not only for it, but also for the Varsity, which Landmark vacated late last year (it reopened last month under the management of Far Away Entertainment, a very brave Bainbridge Island–based company that also runs, among other venues, West Seattle's Admiral Theater). Beloved Sisters is not experimental or original or outstanding. It's instead the kind of film that college-educated Americans love to consume. It is above Hollywood and below indie. It is, in a word, middlebrow. But middlebrow at its very best.
Concerning a love triangle that has 18th-century German poet Friedrich Schiller as one of its points, Beloved Sisters is simply and effortlessly beautiful. It is not fast, and lacks the force of a thrilling plot, but it contains gripping sequences that enchant the eye in the theater of the mind. One such scene involves a rushing river, a dog drowning in that river, a stupid child deciding to run into the river and save the dog, the poet Schiller (Florian Stetter) running into the river to save the stupid child, the poet saving the child but not the dog, and, at the end, a tree trunk and two sisters—one of whom, Charlotte (Henriette Confurius), has the most amazing lower lip—using their bodies to warm the poet's river-chilled body.
Yes, the film has many delights, but it's not what you'd expect to see at the Grand Illusion, which has a reputation for showing edgier works. It was scheduled to open at Seven Gables on January 23, but it was dropped at the last minute. I asked the publicist at Landmark why this happened and was simply told: "Landmark will not be playing the film in Seattle." The publicist also had no idea that Grand Illusion had added Beloved Sisters to its calendar. After asking a few people in the industry about the odd matter, I got this response from a person whose identity I promised not to share: "I think Landmark was feeling the crunch of losing five screens (three at the Varsity, two at Harvard Exit). They probably booked it months ago, then realized they couldn't bump something like Oscar Shorts that would make more money." This is hardly earth-shattering news. But it's worth noting how the shrinking of art-house cinema is affecting not only the economic landscape of the screens that remain, but their aesthetic identities as well.