aka ABSCHIED: BRECHTS LETZTER SOMMER
Movie Review by Kris Griffiths
Starring: Josef Bierbichler, Monica Bleibtreu, Jeanette Hain
Director: Jan Schutte
All I know about Bertolt Brecht, having stumbled upon him a couple of times at university, is that he was a German who wrote plays about politics and all his characters used to wave banners around. He was apparently one of the most important literary figures of this century. This film turned out to be quite a shock as it exposes what the great man was really like in real life: a fat, gravel-voiced, womanising bastard living in a bizarre world.
THE FAREWELL is the story of a single day in Brecht’s life – the last day of his summer holiday, three days before his death in 1956. All the ‘action’ takes place at his summer house next to a lake in Brandenburf, where he is putting the finishing touches to his final play, CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE, which is to be premiered that evening. The craziness of his situation is swiftly revealed when we meet the women also holidaying with him. After we meet his wife Helene and daughter Barbara, we meet mistress #1, Elisabeth. Well, she’s not actually his mistress anymore but has been demoted to the position of secretarial assistant. Then we meet mistress #2, Ruth, who is also actually an ex-mistress but insists on hanging around. She has recently hit the bottle big time and stumbles around all day pissed off that Berty doesn’t fancy her anymore. Next up is mistress #3 and his current favourite – the young and pretty actress, Kathe, who acts in his plays and rehearses in his bed. Finally there is mistress #4, Isot, who is actually married and is living in the holiday house with her husband, Wolfgang, who doesn’t mind Bert banging his missus so long as he can discuss politics with the wise old playwright.
After all the characters are introduced during morning-time, the film’s central scene has the whole lot of them sitting down at the dining table for a hearty lunch of goulash and dumplings. With Bert sitting pretty at the head of the table of course, we witness all the internal politics that unsurprisingly goes on in the household. All the women openly bitch about each other whilst Wolfgang tries to discuss with Bert the shortcomings of the current German government. Then after lunch they all get ready to leave the house, and whilst Bert falls ill the ladies squabble about who gets to sit in the car with him. Then they all leave.
Despite its clearly strange content, this film is agonizingly boring. Despite the tension clearly brewing in the house, the only real moment of dramatic conflict occurs when Bert gets a good slap round the face from Ruth when he refuses to let her in the car with him. Nothing else of interest happens. Throughout the entire film there wasn’t even any music save for a couple of tinkles on the piano at completely random points. And even though it clocked in at a relatively short ninety minutes, the whole auditorium had been attacked by the fidgets at least a third of the way through. I left the place gasping for air.