Sounds and fury in an Alpine village Fateful triangle: Passions run deep and out of control for a man who has an overwhelming interest in music -- and other things.

November 29, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Visually sumptuous and intellectually enigmatic, "Brother of Sleep," which opens today at the Charles, is a kind of "Sound of Music" for fans of Ingmar Bergman.

Derived from a lush novel by the Austrian Robert Schneider (somehow I don't think he's the guy on "Men Behaving Badly" but I could be wrong), it's the story of Elias, born into an Alpine village at the turn of the last century with a gift -- or a curse -- for music.

Elias hears things: The rocks sing to him, the waters perform opera, the grass sings lullabies. In some odd way which the film can't make clear but nevertheless makes convincing, his gift of music is tied up with a connection to God and a radiant sexuality. Indeed, Elias reminded me most of Peter Schaffer's conceit of the young Mozart as an untutored country bumpkin who had immediate access to the melodies of the supreme being, that is, when he wasn't bumping into things or passing either wind or water.

Director Vilsmaier is a visual sensualist: His evocation of the harshness of village life and the beauty of the high mountain setting is extraordinary -- the details and colors leap out to ensnare you rapturously. In fact, "rapture" is a key concept: The film has an eerie ability to convey Elias' exalted state when he is in full grip of his gift. The hills are alive with the sounds of music and so is the theater, and I ain't talking Julie Andrews, Jack.

The movie is built around a triangle of attraction; Elias (Andre Eisermann) is in love with Elsbeth (Dana Vavrova) a village girl; but so overwhelming is his majesty that he soon seduces his best friend Peter (Ben Becker) into loving him with equal power. These crossed-wired passions have tragic complications, which break forth one frosty night in the dead of winter and ultimately doom not only the participants but a poor village beggar who is blamed for the atrocity that occurs.

The movie is completely compelling, even if its meanings are difficult to grasp.

'Brother of Sleep'

Starring Andre Eisermann and Dana Vavrova

Directed by Joseph Vilsmaier

Released by Sony Classics

Unrated

Sun score:***

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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