A sumptuous historical drama with German poet Friedrich Schiller at the heart of a love triangle in "Beloved Sisters" transported audiences back in time on Saturday with the second of four German entries for best movie at the Berlin Film Festival.
In the evening the festival will see the international premiere of George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" about a squad of art specialists sent into Europe near the end of World War Two to rescue art works from the retreating Nazis.
Clooney's film, which stars himself as well as Matt Damon and Bill Murray, will have a special resonance in Germany, which last year was gripped by the discovery of a stash of more than 1,400 art works in the flat of an elderly recluse. Most were believed to have been looted or extorted by the Nazis.
Striking a contrast with the festival's first German entry "Jack", a gritty contemporary family drama, director Dominik Graf's "Beloved Sisters" depicts the 18th-century national hero and two beautiful sisters from the penniless aristocracy attempting to establish a loving "ménage a trois" over more than a decade.
Schiller marries the younger of the two sisters, who have made a pact to share everything - including him - in an attempt to protect their idyll under the guise of convention.
But the elder sister, who is trapped in an unhappy marriage of convenience, increasingly realises their naivety, and the equilibrium of their love triangle starts to become undone when the younger one becomes pregnant.
"The core of the movie is incredible tenderness," Graf told a news conference, noting that he wanted to focus on their love rather than on Schiller as a famed writer and protagonist of the "Sturm und Drang" literary movement, together with Goethe.
Graf, who has of late directed more television than film, said he let his film sprawl out over more than two hours - repetitious scenes show the protagonists writing love letters to one another or travelling to and fro by horse and carriage - in order to capture the slower pace of that era.
"We wanted to avoid the impression that people were racing through the streets back then," said Graf. "We would force an artificial speed, it would have falsified the whole thing."
Producer Uschi Reich, who came up with the idea and has done other films about Schiller, said she was fascinated by the way people were challenging the norms of relationships around the time of the French revolution in 1789.
"At that time people were really thinking about utopias, like we were in the '70s, utopias of love, living together, shared accommodations," she said. "People before and after the revolution people tried and tested new forms of coexistence."
The film is punctuated by the characters reading out the letters sent between Schiller and the elder of the sisters, Caroline von Beulwitz, who went on herself to become an author of some success.
Graf said he reconstructed those letters himself, as von Beulwitz became ashamed of them towards the end of her life, "piled everything onto one huge pyre and burnt them all".
"Beloved Sisters" is one of 20 movies competing for the "Golden Bear", the Berlin Film Festival's top prize which will be awarded next week. More than 400 films are screening at the Berlinale.