Adapted from a bestselling book by Tessa de Loo that may as well be the trashy cousin of Ian McEwan’s brilliant Atonement, the chaos of war in the hoary WWII-era Twin Sisters doesn’t illuminate people’s lives. Rather, it exists to prolong a weepy epic-length separation drama for the satisfaction of the Danielle Steele fan club.
Director Ben Sombogaart wastes little time cutting the chord between twins Lotte and Anna. Seconds after the film’s opening credits, a rich aunt and poor uncle fight to determine who deserves to take the newly orphaned twins home, and after a curt funeral sequence, the dueling families hysterically lunge for the girls in a scene so obscenely overwrought as to suggest that a dozen twin girls died during its filming. In the first of many balancing acts to come, Stupid Catholic Farmers get healthy twin and Upper-Class Ghouls get TB-infected twin.
Seemingly made for people who are under the impression that if you punch a twin in the face, his or her identical sibling will feel the pain in equal measure, every scene in this tawdry melodrama strains for parallelism. Inexplicably monstrous, Lotte’s foster family never sends Anna her letters because they think the rivaling foster family are beneath them; back in Germany, Anna’s equally obscene uncle refuses to send the girl to school, telling the state she’s “retarded” so she can stay home and milk the cows. One is punched in the face, which cues the other one to jump in the ocean for egregious underwater Gemini imagery.
Then, more Three’s Company-style misunderstandings and roadblocks to further deter the flow of letters between Germany and Holland. Namely, things that the twins discover at the same exact time: family deceit; the pleasure of having a man between their legs; and that war, while awful, can mess with your loyalties. Cue fainting, naked boys pounding on buses, and lots of PG-13 dry humping. Once the girls meet again, they can only blame the war and themselves for the non-stop separation anxiety that they continue to endure.
In the film’s best sequence, Mother Nature—no doubt as perplexed as the audience by the ridiculous melodrama the filmmakers force her to swallow—intervenes and forces a startling connection between the older twins within a maze of trees and rocks. Sombogaart’s images otherwise lack urgency, evoking class difference in the simplest aesthetic terms possible. But in the end, it’s the screenplay that’s infinitely more single-minded, a mess of forced equations (maid reading books = threat to bourgeois order) and soapy hysteria.