AGNES AND HIS BROTHERS
Germany, 2004, 115 minutes, Colour.
Martin Weiss, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Katja Riemann.
Directed by Oskar Roehler.
A film with a provocative title. Agnes is, of course, a transsexual. The film opens with Agnes talking to a television interviewer and explains her role in her family as well as the significance of her two older brothers. In fact, the story of this film is about the three brothers, their own lives, inadequacies (especially sexual) and their crossed paths, especially with their father.
The film was directed by Oskar Roehler, a director of provocative films. He has an excellent cast, Martin Weiss being persuasive as Agnes, carrying off very difficult scenes, portraying the transsexual meeting with his wife and son (very touchingly done) as well as in difficult relationships, discovering illness, wanting to be reunited with a black American musician whom he had met in New York during the time of the sex change. Once again, what could have been a rather sleazy and/or sensational sequence also becomes touching.
Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run, The Experiment) is a librarian with sex addiction who actually goes to sex addiction programs. The film shows the anguish that he experiences in his own private life, in trying to relate to girls. It is only when he goes to a pornographic film studio and meets a porn star with whom he relates well on a personal level that he sees some future for himself.
By contrast Herbert Knaup is a grim politician who has alienated his sons and antagonised his long-suffering wife. He has problems of sexuality as well as of power and authority. His wife is portrayed by Katja Riemann (who had just won the award at the Venice Film Festival 2003 for best actress in Rosenstrasse).
The director declares that this picture of the three brothers is symbolic of Germany at the beginning of the 21st century, as society, as preoccupied with mundane, mercenary, ambitious and power struggles as well as sexual identity. In some ways it is bizarre – but it also has many moving moments.
Agnes And His Brothers has an arresting title. It is clear that Agnes is a transsexual, one of three brothers. Each of them has strong sexual problems.
The writer-director declares that this is an image of contemporary Germany, politics, finance, ordinary people, the middle class, the lower classes, the pornographic industry…
The film is strong in performances, giving it more strength than it might have. While each of the characters introduces himself and his problems, it gradually moves to a film where one has some sympathy for each of them. Martin Weiss is Agnes, formerly married, having had a transsexual operation, relating to men, not well after the operation, struggling to find some sense of identity. Moritz Bleibtreu is Hans Jorge, a simple librarian with a past abuse by his father, sexual obsession, going to a sex addicts’ forum, finally getting over his addiction, possibly, with a porn star with whom he actually relates well. Herbert Knaup is Werner, a Greens politician, successful in politics, not able to manage his household, harassing his wife, criticising his older son, taking his younger son for granted. The film also highlights the father – and the ambiguous relationships of his sons with him.
Katja Riemann, who won the best actress award in Venice 2003 for Rosenstrasse, gives a strong performance as the bored and anguished wife.
The film is set in Cologne, has a musical score with contemporary songs and past songs which highlight the characters and their dilemmas.
1.The impact of the film? A portrait of contemporary Germany? German men and women? Sexual issues? Relationships? Love?
2.The Cologne setting, the city itself, the cathedral and the squares, clubs? The different homes and apartments? The library, the pornographic studio, the different locations? Authentic atmosphere? Musical score – and a range of songs which commented on the action?
3.The title, its focus, Agnes, the transsexual, the family, the brothers? Their relationship with their father?
4.The introduction to Agnes, the voice-over, the television interview, the interviewer, the questions? Agnes explaining her background, absent mother, drunken father, no explanation? The background story, growing up as a boy, his traumas, his marrying, the two children, his meeting his wife, the children comfortable with him, calling him Agnes, his wife and her sympathy? New York, the relationship with Henry? The lasting effect? The operation in New York? The return home, his living with Rudi, Rudi’s anger, turning him out? His going to stay with Roxy, her support? The visit to their father, his getting on well with his father? His meeting with Hans Jorge, at the club? His seeing Henry was coming to Cologne, the discussion with his wife, his knowing that he was ill, going to the doctor? Going to his father’s, the wedding dress, Hans Jorge misinterpreting the sexual behaviour? His dressing in the wedding dress, going to the cathedral, calling out to Henry, Henry acknowledging him, going for coffee, the sincere discussion, the parting? Hans Jorge seeing him in the café, the farewell? Going home, the bleeding, dying and Roxy being with him? A sympathetic portrait of the transsexual, his dilemmas, his life, becoming a woman, living as a woman, early death?
5.Hans Jorge, working in the library, his infatuations with the girls, watching, answering questions, the suspicions of the boss? His masturbation in the toilet, voyeurism? At home, the pornography, the magazines, the doll? His going to the sex addiction group, listening to the others, his own speech, acknowledgment of his lack of self esteem? His father’s sexual abuse of him as a child, ridiculing him for wetting the bed until twelve? His going to visit the father, his arguing with Werner, getting out of the car? At work, helping the young woman, her break-up, painting the room for her, her using him, driving eight hundred kilometres and then being rejected? In the toilet again, her hearing him, reporting him, his packing and leaving? At the meeting, the men that he met, the offer for the pornographic filming? The going, being comfortable, the blackout during the scene, weeping? His going to his father, getting the gun – shooting him or not? Killing him or not? The film, meeting the girl, her having coffee with him, affirming him, deciding to go off with her? The new lease of life, control, the girl of his dreams? Going through the border? What future?
6.Werner, his back-story, the oldest, his being in politics, the Green party, interest in environment? The contrast between the management of his home life and his political success? Eighteen years with Signe? His antagonism towards Ralf? His affirmation of Walter? His love for his dog, going for walks, attacking his son about his filming, about going out, about the drugs in the garden? The tension with his wife, sleeping separately, her irritation at his mannerisms, questions, obtuseness? The sausages? His son filming him, his toilet sequence videoed? Wanting it deleted, finding that it hadn't been? His anger with his son, destroying the marijuana? The barbecue, the angers at the table, his wife and son ridiculing him? Walter being injured by the saw? His political deals, success, interviews, the party and the stories? Coming home drunk? Ordering his wife and son out? His relenting? Their leaving? His wife ringing, the disappearance of their son, their concern? Talking things over? His return, the anger? His wife staying? His future? His libido, the aggressive sexual encounter in the car? Controlling himself? Sexual problems within the family?
7.Signe, the eighteen-year marriage, her being bored, sunbaking, giving the classes to the Turks, dressing up for them, Werner’s attack on her not dressing up for him, his racist statements to her? Her irritation, decision to leave? Her relationship Ralf, his awards, cameras? Taking his side, laughing at his jokes, her going? The talk, the missing son, her deciding to stay?
8.Ralf, surly, the marijuana, the photos, continually videoing his father? His embarrassing him? Jokes, being ousted? His going to Warsaw without notice? The contrast with Walter, the camps, environmental interest, supporting his father, the injury?
9.The girl at the pornography film, the rehearsal, the filming, her talking with Hans Jorge, explanation of her being in the business, liking him, wanting to get out, going with him?
10.The father, each son’s perspective, the unknown mothers, the drunkenness, the sexual abuse, his being old, the visits – and Hans Jorge threatening to shoot him? The phone call to Werner? Dead or not? The girl at the library, her boyfriend, leading Hans Jorge on, her response to his offering to paint, pick her up, the boyfriend and the attack? Her reporting him after the incident in the toilet?
11.The political background? German society? The sex addiction group and their speeches, the man with his dog? The blend of the serious, the melodramatic, the comic?