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Young Goethe in Love ***

The booming German title is Goethe! Philipp Stölzl’s film about the youthful Johann Wolfgang Goethe (Alexander Fehling) seems an attempt to depict the greatest German writer as a budding rock star of stage and pen. That fantasy falls inside the range of giddy art-hero hits such as Amadeus and Shakespeare in Love. And it makes some sense, as the story is about the genesis of Goethe’s heart-stricken novella Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), a spark of the Romantic movement that possibly ignited a rash of imitative suicides and is the ancestor of modern stuff such as the Twilight series.

While law-clerking in provincial Wetzlar, Goethe goes beyond lifting steins in the local beer hall. His motivation is Charlotte Buff, whose debt-burdened father presses her to marry a rising lawyer (Moritz Bleibtreu). A rainy day with fertile nature quickens the poetic muse, and since gracious sublimation is now a dated concept to most people, the movie fleshes out the erotic element. After a duel, a friend’s suicide, and upheavals with lovely Charlotte, Goethe can morph creatively into the fated, lovesick Werther.

This is gemütlich-kitsch of strong pedigree. Stölzl, who also made a Wagner film, is good with sensitive sensuality. He has strong settings, costumes, dances, even a bravura burst of Bach. The motorizing force is the appetite of the attractive Goethe for the tonic and Teutonic charms of Miriam Stein as Charlotte. She is a poet’s dream in flesh, with elements of Debra Winger and Sean Young in their prime.

Reviewed in the movie capsules: Arthur's Christmas and A Warrior’s Heart.

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