3 March 2007 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Better than I'd expected.
The German title 'Liebesleute' would translate imprecisely as 'Love-Folk' or 'The Ones Who Love'. Here we have a story which, at first glance, would seem to be one of the oldest and most trite of moss-covered Mills & Boon chestnuts: the one about the peasant girl who marries the handsome young nobleman, and they live happily ever after on their love and his wealth. Fortunately, upon second glance, it turns out that this movie's story is a bit more original: the handsome young nobleman is skint, and their love isn't enough to live on without a pfew pfennigs. To the extent that 'Liebesleute' IS a hoary old story, at least it comes with an impressive pedigree: the opening credits of this German film claim that it's inspired by 'Hermann und Dorothea', the epic poem by Johann von Goethe. Actually, this movie resembles that poem only to about the extent that 'West Side Story' resembles 'Romeo and Juliet'.
Dorothea Rainer (Renate Müller) is an attractive young German: orphaned in childhood, she was sent to Canada with a colony of German farmers. (I wonder if they're any relation to the group headed by Anton Walbrook in '49th Parallel'.) But the agricultural colony failed due to drought, and now Dorothea is home in Germany ... although 'home' is meaningless, since she has no family and no property. By chance, she passes near the ancestral lands of Baron von Goren (Heinrich Schroth). The baron has a handsome young son, Hermann (Gustav Fröhlich). Herman and Dorothea 'meet cute', and it's love at first umlaut. Happy ending? Nicht! Nein! Nix!
The baron, as it happens, also has a mountain of debts. A local businessman (Harry Liedtke) holds the note on the baronial estate, but he will cancel the debt if his daughter Helga (Gina Falckenberg) marries Hermann, thus bringing a title into the family. The baron is in favour of this. But Hermann and Dorothea, having tasted true love, have their own ideas. They go off to the city, penniless but determined to make their own way. Eventually and bitterly, they discover that they can't live on love alone. They need a few groschen to buy groscheries...
My all-time favourite film is 'Metropolis', in which Gustav Fröhlich gave a strong performance as the juvenile lead ... but I doubt that Fröhlich's performance is the reason why anybody sees that great film. In the early sound era, Fröhlich made an impressive transition to the disciplines of emoting for talkies. In his later years, he was a sort of grey eminence for young actors in Austria and Switzerland. Here, he gives a solid performance in a role that could have been very bland.
Quite a few German movies from this period (the early days of the Third Reich) are sheer candyfloss, offering escapist entertainment rather than realistic drama. 'Liebesleute' starts out that way, boding to be one more Cinderella story. But I was deeply impressed by the stark realism of the later scenes, as the two young lovers try to make a go of it on their own terms, only to discover that it won't be easy. The ending is somewhat contrived but still plausible, and all ends happily. I'll rate this interesting drama 7 out of 10.