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Smoking women. Drinking women. Beautiful women.

There are some films that are so inspiring you feel compelled to watch them again straight away. And again. And again. Until you reach a point at which you realise you can reel off the dialogues in your sleep. One film that had and still has that effect on me is ‘Schöne Frauen’, which translates as ‘Beautiful women’.

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The film, as the title already hints at, deals with beautiful women. Or, to be more precise, with the actors Barbara (Floriane Daniel), Dana (Julia Jäger), Geno (Clelia Sarto), Kandis (Carolina Peters) and Karin (Ulrike C. Tscharre), who all happen to be attending the same casting for a TV detective film. The time spent waiting drags on and after an initial period of eyeing up the competition and exchanging small insults (‘Have you put on weight?’), collective frustration results in the conclusion that the film is simply a crappy ‘serial killer-erotic thriller’ which none of the actors actually wish to be cast in.

Without further ado they abandon the casting session (all but one, who they later meet up with again) and decide, after a quick stop-off at a chippy, to embark on a search for a mountain from whose vantage point everything suddenly seems miniscule, including one’s own problems. It’s a pity, therefore, that they happen to find themselves in North Germany’s lowlands, which, at most, offer up a few hills but lack anything resembling a large mountain. So instead they eventually end up at the ocean and, in seeking a place to spend the night, at a tiny hotel which is used as a rehearsal space by two musicians (‘Queen Bee’ Ina Müller and Edda Schnittgard) during the winter break.

Armed with the supplies of the hotel’s mini-bars the five women hole themselves up in one of the rooms and start to drink and talk – about life and love, about men and women, about others’ flaws and their own small and larger shortcomings, about their dreams and fears and, particularly, current concerns that they all carry with them: Barbaba who leaves dozens of answers on her boyfriend’s answer phone without ever receiving a reply; Dana whose unplanned pregnancy leaves her fearing for her career; Geno who can’t leave her girlfriend though she doesn’t love her anymore; Kandis who engages in superficial sexual encounters but secretely harbours the desire for a serious relationship, and Karin who was a child star and finds it impossible to come to terms with adulthood. There is a lot of laughter, tears are shed, arguments had, kisses and slaps are exchanged, and the night concludes for most of the women with an extremely personal vow to the future.

It seems as though author and director Sathyan Ramesh has let himself be inspired by the George Cukor-classic ‘Die Frauen’(‘The women’ ), in which most of the conversations revolve around the topic of men, especially husbands, but who are conspicuous in their absence throughout the entire film. Similarly, ‘Schöne Frauen’ features almost exclusively only the five main characters and the two ladies from Queen Bee; it is not merely a declaration of love to women but also a homage to the love that exists between women, in all its facets. This aspect makes the film particularly noteworthy – it portrays on the one hand the purely amicable tenderness often inherent in female friendships. One such instance is Barbara taking care of Kandis who awakens with a killer hang-over after a night of drunkenness. On the other hand, the film also presents romantic, erotic love between women. And it succeeds in doing this in a superbly unagitated manner. Geno’s problems with her girlfriend are taken as seriously by the others (and bitchily commented upon) as Barbara’a man-troubles.

Somewhere in between lies the growing closeness of Dana and Karin. It’s not made entirely clear at this pojnt what kind of relationship exists, or is developing, between the two women. Some romantically inclined viewers, such as myself, who on principle wishes for a happy end filled with happy lesbian couples, might feel a degree of frustration at this but it corresponds with reality- even in real life not everything can or has to be analysed, especially not when emotions are involved.

Sathyan Ramesh has provided a gift not just to his actors, whose roles are tailor-made for them, but also to the audience. The dialogues are brilliantly written, without affectation and true to life. Punchlines are never flat but accurate and in parts are laugh-out-loud hilarious. The fact that Ramesh also took over as director no doubt contributes to the film’s comprehensibility, which, in light of what can at first glance be construed as a somewhat laboured structure, is not necessarily a given. Ramesh, however, succeeds in carrying the audience along ( from the garish waiting room to the chippy; from the non-mountain to the empty sea-side hotel), without leaving one wondering how the five women ended up there in the first place.

The actors do a great job and, moreover, lack any sense of vanity. The film is topped off by music from Queen Bee, who provide the appropriate backing to suit every mood. One stand-out track is ‘Ich bin noch da’/ ‘I’m still here’, which becomes a stirring hymn for those women who, though waking up after another drunken night with horrible hang-overs, also experience a sense of change and return home with renewed resolve: just look at what we’ve survived so far; we’ll be just fine in future and survive anything coming our way.

After a short run in cinemas in 2005 and the occasional showing of it on TV, the film ‘Schöne Frauen’ is available on DVD since last year (2007). One of the special highlights is an audio commentary by the five leading actors and author and director Sathyan Ramesh.

EurOut-rating: definitely worth watching.

For our non-German-speaking readers: The DVD provides English subtitles as well. It can be ordered from Amazon Germany (amazon.de) and is also available on eBay (ebay.de).

(Posted on eurOut on September 13th, 2008)

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