Films like Goethe have the power to inject our wisdom with a fresh and invigourating sensibility. What we know, or what we think we know, is turned inside out as German filmmakers Philip Stölzl (director and screenwriter) and Christoph Müller (producer and co-screenwriter) repaint history with their insightful and enlightening vivid exploration of a man who changed the world with his passion for words.
In Germany, 1772, the young and tumultuous Johann Wolfgang von Goethe aspired to be a poet, but after failing his law exams, he was sent by his father to a sleepy provincial court to mend his ways. Unsure of his talent and eager to prove himself, Goethe soon wins the praise and friendship of his superior, Kestner. But then Lotte enters his life and nothing is ever the same. However, the young lovers are unaware that her father has already promised Lotte's hand to another man.
An autobiographical masterpiece
Out of his experiences as a law student, and tasting the fruits of first love, Goethe wrote an autobiographical masterpiece, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which was used as the basis for the film, conjuring up a beguiling and refreshingly innocent period romance. Goethe's heartbreaking life story and the self-destructive mood that led to the creation of literary masterpieces (like Faust), is now brought to life in a film that takes us into the heart and soul of the man behind the genius.
Goethe (also known as Young Goethe In Love) is not constrained by the truth of its historical background, but shows the passage of a young man who experiences love and wants to conquer the world with his obsession and dynamism.
The film is an ideal blend of Goethe's actual life with his own reflections on his life in Werther, resulting in a new truth that offers exciting drama.
Berlin actor Alexander Fehling, who received the OE Hasse Award from the Akademie der Künste (a sponsorship award for new actors) in 2006 and a year later won the German Film Sponsorship Award for his leading role in the film Am Ende kommen Touristen, is magnificent in the title role (you might also remember him from Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds).
Fehling perfectly captures the spirit of Goethe; his robust energy and spontaneous nature is well contrasted with that of Miriam Stein, who plays Lotte Buff, the woman who captured the young poet's heart. It is great to experience a romance that offers a relatively unknown couple in the lead roles, allowing the romance and the drama of the story and the period to speak for itself and not be dominated by glossy star power.
If ever you felt that you wanted to escape into a world ruled by virtuousness, which celebrates the power of love and belief in the vigour of individual freedom, Goethe delivers a meaningful experience that is honest and heartfelt.
Behind the scenes
"Goethe is Germany's most famous and important poet and philosopher, yet there has never been a relevant feature film about this extraordinary personality," said Christoph Müller - producer, co-screenwriter. "There's a reason for this, too: Goethe could do everything and was everything! He was handsome, came from a wealthy family, wrote successful novels, theatre plays and poems, was an accomplished horseback rider and fencer, invented roller skates and discovered the pharyngeal bone, and he was a natural scientist, privy councillor, traveller, artist, minister, lawyer, and much, much more - all in all, a universal genius and, thus, a completely non-dramatic character for a feature film! But there was a time in young Goethe's life when he was tortured by self-doubt and self-discovery. At a time when he almost died due to an unrequited love, the only thing that rescued him was dealing with the episode by writing about it."
There are new and familiar faces in front of the camera. "Alexander Fehling had already been in films, but I didn't know him," said Philipp Stölzl - director, co-screenwriter.
"He was the first candidate to show up at casting for the role of Goethe, and I knew after a minute that he's our lead. He was 100 percent convincing. And then shooting with Alexander confirmed it completely. He's an absolutely exceptional actor. He can play the comical moments as well as the tragic ones; he has an unbelievable palette - everything you want from an actor. We were extremely lucky to find him. His precise performance is also the result of our close collaboration, as we worked on and tried many variations together to arrive at what would serve the role the best."
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.
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