It's rarely a good idea to base a movie on a thesis instead of a story. Oskar Roehler's serio-comedy Agnes And His Brothers tries to make some incisive points about the damage wrought by society's sexual hang-ups, but though Roehler throws three different characters at the subject, only one halfway sticks. Martin Weiss fails to engage as a noble transsexual suffering bigotry, and Herbert Knaup fares little better as Weiss' older brother, an EU bureaucrat whose wife follows an elaborate bedtime ritual that doesn't include sex with her husband. Instead, Agnes And His Brothers lives and dies with Moritz Bleibtreu, the family's youngest, an archivist whose livelihood is threatened by his inability to stop spying on women in the library bathroom.


When Roehler yokes Agnes to Bleibtreu's point of view, the movie becomes as clammy and fidgety as it's intended to be. Roehler fills the frame with glimpses of women's bare hips, midriffs, and legs, and he fills the soundtrack with sensual pop music, capturing how the culture itself can drive sexually frustrated people crazy. But his insights don't dive much deeper. Aside from one well-observed scene where Knaup mistakenly thinks his wife is softening to his sexual advances because she laughs at one of his jokes, Agnes gets bogged down in silly shtick involving Knaup's son videotaping his dad defecating, and Bleibtreu trying to channel his sex addiction by becoming a porn star.

Left out of all the shenanigans? The character whose name gives the movie its title joke. Weiss gets to have a semi-sweet reunion with a former lover, but otherwise, he hangs around in the background, playing the neutered martyr. It says something about Roehler's vision for Agnes And His Brothers that he didn't think much about the movie's centerpiece character, beyond the simplistic irony of having the family transsexual be the most normal. It says that Roehler, for all his keen understanding of the dynamics of horniness, has no idea how to turn that understanding into a movie.