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Movie review: Twin Sisters

Last night I spent with friends, watching a 2002 Dutch film called Twin Sisters (De Tweeling.) It is an engrossing tale about twin sisters born in Germany, orphaned and forcefully separated when about eight years old. The girls, Lotte and Anna, are raised by distant relatives in very different environments: Lotte by loving, upper middle class Dutch in Amsterdam and Anna by abusive, exploitative German farmers. When WW II starts in 1939, they are about 20 years old and meet, very briefly, for the first time since being separated. That meeting, and the war, play the most critical role in their lives.

The film is well done and well acted and keeps you interested, though at times it felt long (it takes about 2 hours). But every so often some incident seemed off and now, the morning after, I have developed some additional—somewhat disturbing—thoughts on what the movie is about.

The film jumps back and forth between the two sisters but it reinforces their closeness, even while apart and incommunicado. There are a number of instances were they are connected by thought, as if they share some supernatural kinship.

Anna’s upbringing was grim. Eventually, after a near fatal beating by her uncle, she is rescued by a kind priest—the same priest who ten or twelve years earlier allowed Anna’s family to keep her enslaved, out of school and deemed officially ‘retarded.’ Anna becomes a maid to a Countess who dazzles her with her beauty and ‘kindness.’ Anna meets, falls in love and marries a kind German soldier who becomes a Waffen SS officer “by mistake.” To start with he isn’t German, he is Austrian, and a reluctant conscript. He volunteers to become an SS officer, but only to get leave and visit Anna, whom he treats with respect. She goes to live—largely off camera—with his parents, who also seem decent folk and treat Anna well. This makes him the first and only ‘human’ SS officer I have seen portrayed in film.

The German Countess employing Anna—’kind’ and beautiful as she was—has totally bought into Nazi propaganda, i.e., Poles being sub-human, Aryans being the master race. She hosts (and condones) Wehrmacht officers who are depicted as having no regard for life, shooting randomly at goats and servants. The film makes it explicitly clear that German/Nazi officers, even as early as 1939, were bloodthirsty anti-Semites and scum in general.

Meanwhile Lotte goes to university in Amsterdam—to study German, ‘a beautiful language’—and falls for a friend of the family, David, who is a Jew. When David gets ‘arrested’ while retrieving Lotte’s handbag, it seems to be by accident and, as explained by his mother, because the Nazi’s wanted to make an example due to some ‘raid’ in Amsterdam. (In other words, a random and unusual event) The arrest also serves to make Lotte feel guilty and responsible for David’s imprisonment and death. The film goes on to show Dutch Jews hiding in plain sight during WW II. David’s family even moves in with Lotte’s family, their gentile friends, but unlike Ann Frank’s family, they do not cower in silence behind false walls. Nor did I notice anyone wearing yellow stars (unless I missed it).

Now we come to the two sisters: Anna and Lotte. At the very core of the film is their German middle-class birth and that genetically they are the same person, i.e., twins separated by circumstance. Anna grows among lower class, brutal (Catholic) pig farmers. That’s the life she gets to know. She is portrayed as meaning nothing when she suggests David looks like a Jew; she is merely reflecting her upbringing while Lotte, her other self, brought up by the open minded (presumably Protestant) Dutch is so pro-Semitic she even marries one Jew after loving another. Nevertheless Lotte is portrayed as unreasonable, in spite of the very strong psychic bond that existed between the sisters, first by rashly uninviting her sister based on that single comment about David’s appearance and later by even denying her existence. The film seems to ask: everyone suffered in the war so why is Lotte taking it out on her own twin sister, who did nothing she herself wouldn’t have done if their places had been reversed.

But back to the portrayal of Jews in hiding: if memory serves, by 1942 Dutch Jews were forced to wear a yellow star of David and deportations started. The Germans and their Dutch collaborators deported 107,000 Jews to concentration camps where they were murdered. Only 1 in 20 survived. About 25,000 to 30,000 Jews went into hiding and of these two thirds managed to survive. http://bit.ly/coPo5G

All these discordant notes have gelled overnight and left me with questions. Could it mean that (according to the Dutch director/writer/producer) things weren’t nearly as bad for Jews in Holland as we have been led to believe by Ann Frank’s diary? Is that their point? Does the nice-boy-Austrian conscript signify the plight of occupied citizens, whether Austrian or Dutch, forced to do the best they can under the circumstances? Is this an attempt at revisionist Dutch history, at exculpating the collaborators, Dutch or otherwise, without whom the Nazis wouldn’t have been able to carry out the systematic murder of six million Jews?

Categories: Movie review
  1. Bart Smookler
    October 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Perhaps the truth is always at risk when “facts should not be allowed to get in the way of the telling of a good story.” “Historical Fiction or Dramatized History” seems to always carry the risk of being a poor substitute for an objective reporting of important historical events. The telling of history from a personal point of view can provide powerful and important perspectives and insights on complex historical events, such as those provided by the Diary of Ann Frank. The movie Twin Sisters appears to be based on a fictional best-selling book. I agree that the distortions of historical facts in this film portrayal appear to be intentional and intended to help sway the viewer’s sympathies and beliefs. This further calls attention to the dangers of substituting “entertaining fiction” for sound historical journalism in the shaping of our beliefs and understanding of history. Although Twin Sisters is an excellent cinematic work, I concur with your observations that it seems to also carry the “taint” of being a fictionalized and biased account that at times plays loosely with the facts.

  2. Anneke Oosterink
    August 27, 2016 at 2:40 am

    The holocaust is definately not overlooked in the Netherlands, neither is the murder of millions of jews. David’s family does not wear stars because they are in hiding, and jews in general were either in hiding, or forced to live in ghettos, from where they could easily be rounded up. I don’t think Lotte is portrayed as overreacting when Anna asks about David. Anna may mean it innocently, but Lotte has seen the place Anna lives and understands a lot about what she seems to believe. As an aside raids were common during WW2. Very common in fact. I’m not sure if the word is English too, but they had a specific name: Razzia. If you say that word in Dutch everyone knows it means a nazi raid on jews, roma, etc.

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