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BROTHER OF SLEEP (Schlafes Bruder)(director/cinematographer/producer: Joseph Vilsmaier; screenwriter: Robert Schneider/based on the novel by Mr. Schneider; editor: Alexander Berner; music: Norbert J. Schneider/Hubert von Goisern; cast: Andre Eisermann (Elias Alder), Dana Vavrova (Elsbeth), Ben Becker (Peter), Angelika Bartsch (Bruga), Peter Franke (Peter), Detlef Bothe (Lukas), Jochen Nickel (Koehler Michel), Paulus Manker (Oskar); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: R; Sony Pictures Classics; 1995-in German with English subtitles)
It’s Wagnerian without reaching any romantic intimacy or the mythology of the Ring Cycle.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joseph Vilsmaier (“Stalingrad”) is the director and cinematographer of this bizarrely grim Alpine romantic drama. It’s based on the acclaimed novel by Austrian writer Robert Schneider, who also penned the screenplay. It’s photographed with an array of gray and brown shadings reflecting the dismal reality and enhanced by the arty Germanic expressionist style that viscerally taps into the downside of a misunderstood tortured genius.

Brother of Sleep is set in the Bavarian Alps, in the impoverished and backward village of Eschberg, around 1800. Elias Alder (Andre Eisermann) whose mother openly despises him, learns while growing up that he’s the illegitimate son of the local priest. The nasty midwife who delivered him noticed he was a peculiar child born with a special gift of “making everything resound.” This transfers to a special bond with nature and a genius for music, as he unassumingly masters the church organ and performs and composes music with a passion and skill that belies his young age. However these special gifts make him an unappreciated freak in the superstitious and bigoted village, where he is considered an outcast and is disparagingly called the “Devil’s son” because of his unusual mental powers and enormous musical talent. Elias spends his days in peace when either he is playing the church organ (seen as a substitute for love) or communicating in a mystical way with God while nakedly sitting on a rock.

The young adult Elias is befriended by his lone friend from childhood, Peter (Ben Becker). Meanwhile he has fallen into a frustrating platonic relationship with his half-sister, Elsbeth (Dana Vavrova, the director’s wife), who is the only other local who supports him. Their romance is clumsily handled, as their acting is stilted.

Everything becomes more complex and symbolic, as Peter expresses jealousy and homosexual urges for Elias. Soon the film awkwardly moves into a heavy-handed crucifixion-like scene that makes martyrdom as the only ticket of escape for the loner.

“Brother” is most successful when it parodies the church’s inanity and inhibitions with the villager’s brand of stupidity. It’s not a pleasant watch, and it dumps a heavy load on the viewer without enough intellectual fodder or dramatic presence to warrant all the discomfort. It’s Wagnerian without reaching any romantic intimacy or the mythology of the Ring Cycle.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”