“Sisters or the Balance of Happiness” at first looks like a film about personal relationships between several characters, but it quickly becomes von Trotta’s research into a fundamental problem of a dangerous disproportion in today’s Western societies between people’s orientation on social exteriority – on “pragmatic” and “instrumental” aspects of life, and dedication to psychological interiority – to the life of the soul and the psychological and spiritual development. A lack of attention towards and investment in development of people’s internal world is shown by the director as a totalitarizing tendency inside democracy, making our world the one where established forms of life successfully block potentials for change and effectively dominate criticism (playing in relation to alternatives the role of a stubborn conservative despot). In these circumstances to be able to overcome our own conformism and one-dimensionality of our way of life is almost an impossible task. Only a self-inflicted death terminating one relationship of characters in the film, and dramatic impossibility to continue another ones force the heroine of the film to start to learn how to appreciate and celebrate human dissimilarity and to be dedicated to otherness of other people without stopping to be herself.

Maria, the personal secretary of the CEO of a global corporation is a kind and responsive person and an exemplary employee. After the death of her and her sister’s father and a prolonged depression of their mother, she tries to help by caring about her younger sister. But Anna is not like Maria. She has her own ideas about life; she disagrees with the technical science’s approach to the world (ignoring the destruction of a life supporting environment and more and more serving the exclusive interests of financial elite). She becomes more and more critical about the direction of the human civilization and stops her studies promising a good employment and career. Maria doesn’t understand Anna’s problems – for her the world is what it is, and to adapt to it and take advantage of what it offers is a sign of maturity and of being responsible person. Soon Anna feels so marginalized by society that she psychologically regresses and becomes too fixated on Maria “as a last protection”. Maria is almost destroyed not just by Anna’s suicide but by the fact that she didn’t understand the seriousness of Anna’s “issues” and couldn’t help her on time. The more she thinks about Anna the less and less she is sure that her position towards Anna was as right as she thought.

After Anna’s death Maria befriended Miriam, a girl who is very different from the both sisters, but, once again, unresponsive to the otherness of the other person, Maria is unable to appreciate Miriam’s subjectivity and to address it. Von Trotta makes a classification of the types of males in today’s society and elaborates a sophisticated symbolic visual language of humorous or ironic depiction of the film’s male characters. The style of acting in the film is existential, not situational, and we feel every person we see as his/her own living history. With this film Jutta Lampe (Maria) proved herself as a movie actress of international recognition. She personifies not only feminine intelligence, but its potentials. Lampe’s Maria with her mistakes and overcoming them points not only at the future of femininity, not just at future of feminism, but at the very future of human race.

Von Trotta finds unique visual images to address the depth of human personal relationships with its irrational and even bizarre corners and layers.

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Margarethe Von Trotta (to the left) and her not really Chekhovian “three sisters” whose happiness she tries so hard to balance in her film (Anna is to the right, and Miriam is next to Von Trotta).

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After Anna’s suicide Maria tries to understand what went so wrong in spite of all she was doing “to help” Anna succeed in her work and studies. They lived together and, as the older sister, Maria felt responsible for what happened. She simultaneously defends and accuses herself, and feels helpless and confused. Anna’s death forces Maria to question her own behavior and ideas in relation to the otherness of other people and to become less self-centered in her own identity.

Posted on 22 Jul 2013 –   Margarethe von Trotta’s “Sisters, Or the Balance of Happiness” (1979) – Being Oneself and “Keeping Another Persons, As If, Inside” – The Task of Identification Based On Difference by Acting-Out Politics