This German film is so beautiful to look at that you can just sit and watch the menu screen on the DVD with the scenes changing in the background. As for the movie itself, it’s long but quite involving. It tells of a small northern German village just before World War I where strange accidents and crimes begin to occur while the schoolteacher tries to get to the bottom of it. It all centers around a rather grim community living in the shadow of the local Baronage and under the influence of a punitive Protestantism.
The one big problem with the picture is that its central thesis is kind of dopey. It essentially puts forward the idea that the sort of religion on display here ultimately led to fascism. But that’s a fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc: you think a phenomenon was caused by an event simply because the phenomenon came after the event. Nazism was such a trauma for Germany, it feels as if every German moment from the taking of Varus’ eagles on must have somehow led to it. But that’s ridiculous. If the Germans had turned away from Hitler and led the world into a better tomorrow, would the filmmaker credit Protestantism? I doubt it.
Without believing in the underlying idea, you have to stay with the film simply for its story and characters. And you really can. It’s very moving and very captivating at times. But the simplistic notion that powers it all undercuts the movie as a whole, keeping it from being the great film it might’ve been.