The first of the films I saw at this year’s Festival Of German Film in Melbourne, Agnes And His Brothers goes out of its way to disturb and shock. Moritz Bleibtreu and Herbert Knaup, of Run Lola Run (Lola rennt) fame, star in this tale of extreme family dysfunction and sexual perversion. In many ways Agnes And His Brothers attempts to be a Todd Solondz film, yet never quite manages to back up the shocking elements with a solid narrative.
Agnes And His Brothers certainly has some moments that have rarely been explored on celluloid. References to bestiality, incest, child abuse, voyeurism and general defaecation abound, and the auditorium was on many occasions filled with uneasy, half-hearted laughter from an audience unsure of how they were meant to react.
The main problem was that there were so many holes. Disturbingly free of resolution, there were also huge gaps in story that may have legitimised or at least explained the characters’ actions. Out of the three brothers in the film, Agnes is strangely the one with the least amount of back story. There is an entire scene wasted because we have no idea who the character of Manni is supposed to be and why they mean so much to Agnes, (not to mention the fact that the mostly German audience may have struggled with the lack of subtitles in the English spoken dialogue). More problematic is the possible subliminal suggestion that transsexualism is somehow equal to bestiality or child abuse – the former is a personal decision whilst the latter certainly negatively affects other parties.
There are some admirable moments in Agnes And His Brothers, but they are few and far between. Where Happiness (and to a lesser extent Storytelling) succeeded with truly interesting and pitiable characters, Agnes, Hans-Jörg and Werner are simply too one dimensional to comprehend.
The cinematography, editing and soundtrack are great, however, and the performances are fantastic – Bleibtreu’s impersonation of a bad actor is particularly amusing. Overall the few interesting moments in Agnes And His Brothers meant it wasn’t a complete waste of time.Rating: