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A young couple, very much in love, stop off at a tavern in a small 19th century German village. A gaunt, grim faced stranger joins them. Just recently the stranger has purchased a 99-year lease on a tract of land adjoining the village's cemetery. He's built an impregnable wall about the estate without door or gate. The stranger, of course, is Death, and within the walls of his `garden' reside the souls of the newly dead and the innumerable candles whose flames melt the tallow of all human life. Death attends the young man he is about to claim. The woman leaves the room for a moment, and when she returns the stranger and her beloved are gone. The woman gives chases, sees the shade of her beloved pass through the impassable wall to Death's garden. An old apothecary finds the distraught woman and shelters her in his pharmacy. The woman drinks a potion from an ancient bottle and is again in front of the walled garden - although now there is a door opening to a steep staircase. The woman enters and meets Death of the staircases. "I want to go where my beloved is," the woman tells him. Death strikes a bargain - if the woman can save the life of just one of three whose candle has grown short, he will return her fiancÚ to her. One of the most original, beautiful and poetic films of all time.

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