It is one of the last days of an exceptionally hot summer in 1956. Bertolt Brecht (Bierbichler) is about to leave his lakeside house among the tall birches in Brandenburg to return to ...
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It is one of the last days of an exceptionally hot summer in 1956. Bertolt Brecht (Bierbichler) is about to leave his lakeside house among the tall birches in Brandenburg to return to Berlin for the upcoming theater season. Most of the women in his life are there: his wife, Helene Weigel (Bleibtreu); his daughter, Barbara; his old lover Ruth Berlau; his latest flame, the actress Käthe Reichel; and sensuous Isot Kilian, whose affections and body he shares with the rebel political activist Wolfgang Harich. The friends and lovers swim, write, eat, drink, and philosophize about art, politics, and life as the Stasi lurks all the while on the sidelines, waiting. The serenity of the country on this summer day stands in marked contrast to the storm of jealousy and egomania, betrayal and dashed hopes at whose center Brecht is trapped, struggling to make plans for a future that fate will end only days later. A brilliant ensemble cast and music by John Cale complement this fascinating portrait ... Written by
Harvard Film Archive
I enjoyed this film overall, especially in its portrayal of Brecht's efforts to keep harmony within the little harem he'd created for himself. Nonetheless, I have some objections to the political overtones of the film. The film unfortunately reinforces the old anti-communist cliché of life in the DDR ('East Germany') as a nightmarish existence under a police state, and we are introduced to that idea early on when the Stasi (the DDR's FBI) come knocking at the door to inquire about one of Brecht's guests, Wolfgang Harich. And it certainly comes as no surprise to anyone that the Brechts' summer vacation ends with Harich's arrest(moreover, there's the suggestion that, in politics, Brecht's soon-to-end life came down to just that: turning a blind eye to the oppressive character of the DDR).
There's a bit of historical distortion here, however. Harich was active in the SED (the DDR's Communist Party) for a number of years and known to be in opposition to the existing leadership, as he attempted to articulate and rally support for a 'third path' between capitalism and bureaucratic socialism, a so-called 'humane socialism.' He was not arrested by the Stasi at the end of the summer of 1956, but rather in November of that year. What's the dif? Well, in the fall of 1956 there occurred the uprising in Hungary, which eventually took on virulently anti-Soviet overtones, with the consequence that it was interpreted by all the regimes in the 'socialist' bloc as life-threatening. In other words, Harich's arrest was not so much evidence of the DDR's inability to tolerate dissenting ideas as it was a measure of the state of international, geo-political tensions at that time (don't forget, similar things had gone on in the US with the anti-communist witch hunts). In fact, Harich, after his release from prison in 1964, went on to publish and teach in the DDR: he continued to argue for German re-unification under socialist auspices and for greater attention to environmental concerns under socialism; he traveled to the West and always returned to the DDR (though opportunities to 'defect' were not lacking), and, after the collapse of the DDR, refused to testify against those who had imprisoned him in 1956. He remained a life-long proponent of a socialist society and economy in which the human values of friendship and community, solidarity and equality, health and environment, culture and enlightenment would hold sway over the commercialization of all aspects of life that is our fate under capitalism. And he firmly believed that, however warped the socialism of the DDR had been in the past, it contained the seeds for evolving in the right direction.
I also find objectionable the suggestion that Brecht himself was complicit in the DDR's oppressiveness, at least to the extent that he failed to publicly denounce Ulbrecht (the DDR's leader at the time) and his regime. I think it fair to say that someone who objected to many aspects of the DDR regime but still wished to hold on to his influence with the leaders would necessarily walk a dangerous tightrope; and it is no easy matter to judge whether Brecht would have served the cause of humane socialism better had he spoken out more forcefully against Ulbrecht's regime (though, obviously, that would make for better cinema).
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