Wednesday, May 10, 2017

STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE -- Maria Schrader's look at the Austrian writer

What a smart, resourceful and especially interesting idea it was for actress/filmmaker Maria Schrader to conceive of a film about the last years of the famous Austrian writer and public figure Stefan Zweig -- a Jew who had to leave Nazi Germany while there was still opportunity -- as a series of public appearances at various events around the world to which Zweig had been invited. This works better than one might imagine for several reasons. As director and co-writer (with Jan Schomburg), Ms
Schrader, shown at right, uses these settings as glorious visual set-ups (her opening is a knockout of marvelous color and surprise) that slowly allow us to enter the mind and heart of her protagonist, the very quiet and understated Herr Zweig, who was in his time and due to the popularity of his writings, a major worldwide celebrity. He also seems to have been, in the view of the filmmaker, a fellow who believed in peace and prosperity for all, as well as in the sanctity of Europe as a kind of nation unto itself. (How timely: Are you listening, Dictator Trump and would-be dictator Le Pen?) So strongly, in fact, does Zweig feel this that he refuses -- early on in the Nazi take-over of Germany and Austria -- to outright condemn the Hitler regime.

This makes for anger and resentment among some of his peers at the P.E.N. Congress that Schrader lets us attend, but as we come to understand Zweig's feelings and beliefs (he is played by that fine actor Josef Hader, shown below and at far left in the photo, right) and watch him in action and repose, this attitude makes more and more sense. The man hoped, past all hope, for some kind of peaceful conclusion to events in Germany, Austria, Europe and the world. He also, in his exile, never stopped longing for the Europe he so hugely missed.

In STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE, we travel with Zweig and his second wife, Lotte (Aenne Schwarz, below, right) to various spots in South America, to New York for a visit with his first wife and family, then back again to South America, where he takes up -- against his deepest wishes -- a kind of permanent residence that turns out to be far too temporary.

In New York we meet that first wife, Friderike, played with her usual restraint coupled to her classic beauty by Barbara Sukowa, below. The family scenes here, filled as they are with tinges of regret and sadness, are quietly fraught and seem particularly moving.

Each scene in Ms Schrader's movie is beautifully and delicately acted by the entire ensemble so that we catch the tiniest nuance, as well as much of the history/exposition embedded quite naturally and smartly into the movie's excellent dialog.

Consequently, we come away feeling as though we know this man, his life and surroundings, about as well as we could hope to, given the film's 106 minute running time.

The lushness and beauty of South America is also captured exquisitely. We feel Zweig's love and admiration for Brazil and elsewhere on this southern continent, even as we see his homesickness increasing and depression on the rise.

TrustMovies did not know much of anything about this author, prior to viewing Schrader's film, so he was surprised indeed by the movie's final scene, which the filmmaker handles with fine tact and grace. I suspect Zweig himself would understand and appreciate the actions of the loving maid at film's end. All told, this is a masterful and very beautiful piece of work.

From First Run Features, Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe , after playing the festival ciurcuit, opens in its U.S. theatrical premiere this Friday, May 12, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. It will plays additional cities thereafter (in Los Angeles it opens at Laemmle's Royal on June 16). Click here to view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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