Twin Sisters, a lush epic drama from the Netherlands, charts 20th Century cataclysms through the eyes of two girls separated in early childhood.
After their parents’ death, robust young “Anna” (Nadja Uhl) is placed with rural relatives in Germany, while sickly “Lotte” (Thekla Reuten) is given over to urban relatives in Holland. Anna is cruely used; forced to do heavy farm labor as a child, she eventually makes a life for herself as a domestic. Meanwhile, Lotte is tenderly nursed back to health, receives a superb education, and settles into the upper middle class. Inevitably, as war clouds gather over Europe, Anna is courted by Nazis whereas Lotte’s suitors are Jews.
But although they are briefly reunited, choices made during WWII cause an emotional rupture. Then one day, decades later, “Anna,” now elderly (Gudrun Okras), coincidentally spots her equally elderly twin (Ellen Vogel) and reaches out to her.
Marieke van der Pol wrote the screenplay based on a popular novel by Tessa de Loo, but even Ben Sombogaart’s sensitive direction & his excellent cast just can’t lift this drama above its schematic source. Mystical moments when the two girls somehow sense the other’s exact predicament feel trite, and the excessive parallelism as they grow older becomes annoying. Also, although Anna is always presented as a sympathetic character, the Germans she interacts with are all monsters, making the Dutch characters in Lotte’s world too saintly in comparison.
And yet, right up to the end, Lotte vents her rage on Anna, blaming Anna personally for her fiance’s wartime death. But the Anna we’ve come to know has been victimized enough by life and just doesn’t deserve this added burden from someone to whom fate has, in general, been much kinder.
Twin Sisters (De Tweeling in Dutch) was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2004 (losing out to the far superior The Barbarian Invasions from Canada). Alas, much as I support films by women filmmakers (especially when they’re about women characters), this level of acclaim is hard to understand.