THE GIRL AND DEATH (HET MEISJE EN DE DOOD) (Jos Stelling, 2012)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
At first glance, Dutch filmmaker Jos Stelling’s The Girl and Death might seem like a costume drama period piece, but in actuality it’s a timeless and intimate look at true love and overwhelming heartbreak. As the film opens, an aging doctor (Sergey Makovetsky) lays flowers on a footstone in a graveyard, then enters a dilapidated building, casting his memories back to his younger self. A student traveling from Moscow to Paris, Nicolai (Leonid Bichevin) stops in a rural hotel on the outskirts of Leipzig. Upon first setting eyes on the beautiful Elise (Sylvia Hoeks), he becomes instantly smitten, despite her friend Nina’s (Renata Litvinova) warnings to stay away from her. The hotel, owned by an old count (German comedian Dieter Hallervorden), also serves as a brothel, and Elise is a courtesan who “belongs” to him. But Nicolai refuses to give up his pursuit of Elise, leading to real trouble for all concerned. Stelling (The Illusionist, Duska), who cowrote the script with Bert Rijkelijkhuizen, zeroes in on the central conflict, Nicolai and Elise’s desire to be together, avoiding subplots and overt social commentary (aside from the power of money). In fact, much of their relationship is spent gazing at each other, not even saying much; Stelling never shows either one outside the hotel grounds. It is as if they exist only in this singular context, with no past, and no other present save for what is shown on-screen. That conceit also works against the film, as the viewer is too often asked to take certain events for granted or simply accept them without question. But The Girl and Death, a German, Russian, and Dutch coproduction that won three Golden Calves at the Netherlands Film Festival (for Best Picture, Best Sound Design, and Best Cinematography), is gripping nonetheless, a painful, romantic portrait of love, jealousy, loyalty, innocence, dedication, and desperation.