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Originally published Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Young Goethe' pines for love, finds poetry

A review of the poetic "Young Goethe in Love," starring Alexander Fehling.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review3 stars

'Young Goethe in Love,' with Alexander Fehling, Miriam Stein, Moritz Bleibtreu, Volker Bruch, Burghart Klaussner, Henry Hubchen. Directed by Philipp Stölzl, from a screenplay by Christoph Müller, Stölzl and Alexander Dydyna. 102 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains sexuality and nudity). In German with English subtitles. Varsity.

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"It is more than truth. It is poetry," says a character at the end of "Young Goethe in Love," nicely illustrating this charming film's romantic theme.

In it, truth becomes poetry, as young law clerk Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Alexander Fehling), in 1770s Germany, falls in love with beautiful Lotte (Miriam Stein), not knowing that she has been promised to an older, wealthier man — namely, Goethe's boss Kestner (Moritz Bleibtreu). This can't end well, surely ... but it can: 23-year-old Goethe, pouring out his pain onto paper, writes his autobiographical novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther." No more dusty law books; a writer has been born.

Goethe would go on to write one of the great works of German literature, "Faust." But in Philipp Stölzl's film, he's a young, eager fellow who seems like he's constantly looking for a Facebook page to update; he wants attention and isn't finding it in the dreary law offices. Ripe for romance — he's practically bursting — he catches a glimpse of Lotte, her hair glowing in candlelight, and is immediately smitten. Their idyll is all too brief, ending with a deliciously awkward scene in which both suitors appear at Lotte's family home. (In real life, the film tells us, Johann and Lotte met one more time after they parted; you wish we'd gotten a final scene of that one meeting.)

Though Stölzl doesn't prettify the period — city life at the time was clearly mud-drenched, as are all the handsome costumes' hems — "Young Goethe in Love" is captured in beautiful light, from a skinny-dip in dappled sunshine to an evening gathering around a piano in a warm cave of candle flame. There are no villains in this drama, just a young man unlucky in love. Pain plus time, this film reminds us, can result in poetry.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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