The fictionalized end of Bertolt Brecht's polyamorous life
Though Brecht's life was a study in the interplay of art and politics, the film is a more intimate look at the man, as portrayed by Josef Bierbichler. In this movie, Brecht is a compact, burly bear of a man, one who dominates those around him through sheer strength of personality. That group includes his wife, the dutiful Helene; their daughter Barbara, a pyromaniac; a beautiful young actress named Käthe; his older confidente, partner and lover, Elisabeth Hauptmann; a drunken former lover, Ruth, and his revolutionary friend Wolfgang and his wife Isot. The gang is wrapping up a lakeside vacation, as Brecht prepares to return to the theater, addled with a serious fever.
A sense of Brecht's life as king among this loosely-connected court is presented simply via a meal. He sits proudly at the head of a table where he's been intimate with five of the seven people present, and the only reason it's not seven is because one is a guy and the other his daughter. Not surprisingly, there's a tremendous sense of stress and tension, but Brecht eats with his head down, raising his eyes only for political discussion or to yell at Barbara for talking back at Ruth. Brecht's disconnect from the emotional turmoil, despite him being the very cause of it, is a perfect microcosm of the film.
While Brecht is busy preparing for a rehearsal, his wife keeps from him the presence of the German secret police. This simple betrayal is just a symbol of the unraveling, decreasing control the ailing Brecht holds, and the effect his health has on the people who love him. As a younger man, he was certain to have been a dynamic, charismatic person, but here is a shell of that man, with a mindset that can no longer be suffered by his hangers-on.
Though the events of the film, which takes place on a single day, never happened this way, they do present a pressurized version of the story. Thus, bringing together his various lovers illustrates just what kind of life he was living, juggling women who undoubtedly served as muses, especially Käthe. The interplay between the ladies is one of the best parts of the film, with Ruth, a lush unable to let go of Brecht, delivering the most over-the-top performance; a mix of pathetic sadness and slapstick comedy.
The rest of the writer's harem play their parts to the limits of the characters on the page. The end result is a film that walks a tightrope of drama and laughter, despite the serious story that lies on the edges of Brecht's life. By the final frame, it seems like the filmmakers wanted the viewer to remain as blithely oblivious to reality as the film's "hero" is.
The audio, presented in the original German in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, is of a higher quality than the picture, with nice sound effects and well-recorded dialogue, in a mix that's strong and clear. Nice touches, like a woodpecker in the distance, make for a quality stereo soundfield.
The historical photo gallery is a nice touch, as its 10 still photos show locations represented in the film and the people being portrayed, providing a link between the film and the real story. Also included is the film's theatrical trailer. Unfortunately, it is not subtitled, and it gives away the ending of the film.
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