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Originally published Friday, May 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

A chick flick with WWII as the backdrop

There's nothing like a Third Reich tear-jerker to put you in a fun-loving mood. OK, that's a facetious remark, but "Twin Sisters" begs for...

Special to The Seattle Times

There's nothing like a Third Reich tear-jerker to put you in a fun-loving mood.

OK, that's a facetious remark, but "Twin Sisters" begs for sarcastic reaction by treating every conceivable separated-at-birth cliché like Greek tragedy by way of the Hallmark Hall of Fame. And this was the Netherlands' Oscar nominee? The windmills of Dutch cinema must be grinding slowly these days.

To be fair, this overwrought melodrama works perfectly well for what it is, and those with a tolerance for high-class weepies needn't feel ashamed for clutching their Kleenex when fraternal twins Lotte and Anna Bamberg are reunited both during and after their experiences in Nazi-era Holland and Germany. With flashbacks filtered so everything looks like a tinted postcard, this movie urges you to cry.

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Twin Sisters," with Thekla Reuten, Nadja Uhl, Gudrun Okras, Ellen Vogel. Directed by Ben Sombogaart, from a screenplay by Marieke van der Pol, based on the novel by Tessa de Loo. 135 minutes. In Dutch and German with English subtitles. Rated R for brief sexuality, brief violence, mature themes. Harvard Exit.

It is nothing if not earnest, based on the 1993 Dutch best seller "De Tweeling" ("The Twins"), and spans 60 years beginning in Cologne in 1925, when the 6-year-old twins are separated after the death of their parents.

By the time Hitler gains power, Anna (Nadja Uhl) has survived brutal poverty and an abusive uncle in rural Germany, and now works as a maid for a baroness while falling in love (too naively, it seems) with an eager SS recruit. By comparison, Lotte (Thekla Reuten) was "lucky," raised by wealthy Dutch Jewish relatives determined to keep her from the "illiterate barbarians" who raised Anna, going so far as to cruelly withhold a stack of letters Lotte wrote to her distant, beloved sister.

Reunited as World War II intensifies, they're on opposite sides of the Holocaust, with mutual bitterness the only possible outcome.

The film's present-day time frame finds the now-aged Lotte (Ellen Vogel) and Anna (Gudrun Okras) meeting coincidentally at a Belgian health spa, still driven apart by their turbulent past. Since "The Twins" was devoured by 3.5 million readers in the Netherlands and Germany, you can perhaps guess the rest.

To its credit, the film is remarkably well cast with Uhl and Reuten (they're talented and appealing), and the wartime drama has sweeping, pop-epic veneer that makes "Twin Sisters" a consummate chick flick with historical substance. On local terms, it's also a welcome reminder to longtime Seattle International Film Festival attendees of the Dutch-film prestige of the mid-1980s, although nothing in "Twin Sisters" can match the depth and substance of the similarly themed 1986 Oscar-winner "The Assault."

No, this time we have to settle for good intentions and bad writing, or at least bad enough to give "Twin Sisters" the stigma of soapiness. That's not exactly a bragging point with Auschwitz in the background.

Jeff Shannon:

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