Tales of Ribaldry, by Jack Fleischer
Young Goethe in Love, (Goethe! in the original German), follows the “real” life events that lead up the German philosopher-poet’s most famous book, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” An entertaining movie, it shares a spirit and style with the similarly titled Shakespeare in Love. It’s cute, well constructed, and it makes an important piece of German literature palatable stateside. If you’re a Pride in Prejudice junkie, or a classic lit fanatic, this movie will probably do it for you.
Let’s start with a brief history lesson: “The Sorrows of Young Werther” was a big hit in 18th century Germany. Think of it as “Harry Potter” for wig wearing emo kids who couldn’t get into the “Nibelungenlied.” In the book a young poet falls hard for an unobtainable local lass. When his unrequited love becomes too much to bear, he pops his head with a musket like a teen pops a zit. “Sorrows” was so popular in its day that a rash of lovesick suicides followed its publication.
Goethe’s tale was based in part on reality, and while historical liberties are taken in Young Goethe in Love, it’s all done (successfully) for the sake of entertainment. It’s hard to imagine that US audiences have been waiting for a German-dramatic-comedy-period-biopic, but they’re getting a decent one with Goethe!
Co-written and directed by Germany’s Philipp Stölzl (North Face), it stars Alexander Fehling who folks may just recognize as Master Sgt. Wilhelm from the Nadine tavern in Inglorious Basterds. Miriam Stein plays his love interest with great innocence, and all around the cast does a great job — particularly impressive is the work of Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run) as protagonist Albert Kestner. He manages to be the bad guy, and a sympathetic soul, all in the same breath.
This movie is also chock-a-block with shots of the German countryside and well-tailored period costumes. Speaking of costumes it was neat to see a mob clambering for Goethe’s book that actually had kids in it dressed up like “Young Werther” (aka “Werther-Fieber”). Not only was it a great touch, it was better than a montage of suicides.
Another fun scene to watch is on that I’d like to imagine is homage to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Here Goethe and his friends go on an 18th century acid trip by ingesting “Belladonna,” a.k.a. deadly nightshade. They then proceed to lose their minds at a street fair. While it’s no Naked Lunch, it’s nice to think that great authors have always been keen to take a “trip” no matter how many buttons they had on their jackets.
So if you read all the assigned books in your high school literature class, there’s plenty of inside baseball here for you to appreciate. On top of that if you like your love stories period, bittersweet, and star-crossed this is a great movie.
On the other hand, if reading repels you, there’s always Twilight.