A national treasure. To Bavarians this is what The Wizard of Oz" is to Americans
Bavaria always had a keen tradition of folk-theatre that carries on to this very day. Among the myriads of plays, none is quiet as popular as the story of "Der Brandner Kaspar und das ewig' Leben" (eng: "Kaspar Brandner and the eternal life") and no version is quiet as popular as the 1975 version by Kurt Wilhelm. Like another reviewer has pointed out, the play is broadcast every year around All Saints Day and that unusual mix of play and mate-painting does indeed at times remind of Monty Phyton, but only in the best of ways.
The story: Kaspar Brandner (Fritz Strassner) is an aging huntsman-assistant for the local duke, fond of drinking and the occasional deer-poaching (both regarded as folk-sports in Bavaria). During one hunting excursion he is nearly hit by a stray bullet. Little does he know what the Grim Reaper himself (Toni Berger) has only missed him due to the fact that his fingers were shaking due to the cold. Later that night Kaspar gets a personal visit from the "Boandlkramer" (roughly translated as "bones-salesman"), who informs him of his destiny and tries to convince Kaspar to come with him out of his own, free will. But the old mountain-man is reluctant to leave his earthly existence behind, manages to get Death drunk with Cherry-Schnapps and cheat him at a deck of cards. This buys Kaspar 18 more years of life, but he gets more than he bargained for, when his beloved granddaughter Marei (Yvonne Brosch) dies in an accident and the townsfolk become suspicious of his longevity. In the meantime Death has his own predicaments, since St. Peter (Gustl Bayerhammer) has discovered his 'neglect' at work and wants to force the reaper to bring the stubborn Kaspar to heaven, in order to be judged.
Some films are simply magic and "Der Brander Kaspar" is one of them. You'd be hard-pressed to find many Bavarians who as kids didn't sit wide-eyed in front of the television-set, watching in wonder how the Grim Reaper transports Kaspar up to the gates of heaven, so he can take a peek into paradise.
As said, technically the effects are nothing much to speak off. Most scenes that don't take place in Kaspars wood-cabin are clearly acted in front of a blue-screen, but the background paintings are all painted by hand and quiet beautiful to behold. Same goes for heaven itself (which is portrayed as a courtyard to a paradise that we never actually see). Here, all are typical Bavarians, be it St. Peter himself, the archangel Gabriel (Heino Hallhuber) or assembled angels, who drink beer from self-filling mugs and enjoy eternal White Sausages and Pretzels. The Prussians (Bavarian euphemism for North-Germans) have their own heaven and are not let in on principle, so St. Peter informs us. "Otherwise heaven wouldn't be a heaven any longer".
Here it's interesting to note, that Bavaria is considered one of the most arch-catholic countries in Europe (in rural areas Protestants are still generally labeled "the Mongols"). At the same time, their form of Catholicism is almost practiced more as a form of folklore, while many traditions and thought-patterns still stemming from pagan times. Evidence of that can be found during the traditional "Perchtnacht" (the Bavarian carnival, where people dress up in demonic masks and celebrate the old pagan ways), the May-Tree-traditions or many aspects you will find in the "Brandner Kaspar"-play. People may attend Sunday church and believe in the various saints, but they're also sure that death is a Valkyrie-like figure, which flies you to Valhalla, pardon, heaven on his cart and serve you beer and mead afterwards. As to the numerous crucifixes and Jesus-figures you'll find on virtually every corner: Well, Allfather Odin has crucified himself unto a tree long before that, so there is no contradiction there.
Despite all jest, humor, linguistic jokes and the premise itself, the story is quiet philosophic and also deals with more serious issues, such as death, loss of the loved ones, (possible) redemption and the need to let go at the right time. In that sense "Brandner Kaspar" Fritz Strassner epitomizes the archetypal Bavarian (or at least how the archetypal Bavarian would like to see himself): Jovial, fun- and life-loving, a scoundrel with a golden heart, yet also stubborn, defiant and self-reflecting only in dire need. The cast is altogether excellent, considering of the finest Bavarian actors of their time and veterans of countless TV-movies and series.
To Bavarians I don't have to recommend it; chances are, they've already seen it more than once. To anybody interested in Bavarian folklore and mentality, it is a virtual must and a piece of culture, like the Hofbrauhaus, the Oktoberfest and the swan-ferry of King Ludwig II. A 10 from 10.
Only one last warning word: avoid the tepid remake from 2008, where grimace-comedian Bully Herwig plays the Grim Reaper it is everything that the original is not and vice versa.
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