Veteran Brazilian documaker Sylvio Back has his own distinctive way of approaching his subjects. He will often omit the usual "résumé" (date and place of birth, upbringing, education, etc), assuming his audience is at least superficially aware of the subject he's portraying. In "Zweig: A Morte em Cena", as the title tells , it's not about Jewish-Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's life and work, but about his death by suicide in Brazil, where he chose to live the last two years of his life.
Zweig was worldly famous since the 1920s for his novellas such as "24 Hours of a Woman's Life", "Letter from an Unknown Woman", "Confused Feelings", "Fear", "The Burning Secret", adapted for the screen many times over. He fled from the III Reich in the early 30s, traveled all around Europe and the Americas to find a new home, finally settling in Brazil in 1940, subject of his last book ("Brazil, Country of the Future"). One week after the Carnival of 1942, he and his second wife Lotte committed double suicide by taking pills and poison in their house in Petrópolis, a lovely town near Rio de Janeiro. This tragic act was prompted by Zweig's growing depression, his inability to adapt in a very different culture and his dark belief that Hitler would ultimately win the war.
There are many important interviews here, including the ones with Abrahão Koogan (his closest friend in Brazil), Samuel Malamud (his Brazilian lawyer), journalist Alberto Dines (author of a thorough Zweig biography entitled "Death in Paradise"), and his German friend Gerhard Metsch (who gives an interesting testimony about Zweig's repressed homosexual tendencies, his strong bond with first wife Friedrike and his disastrous marriage with second and last wife Lotte). There are also narrated excerpts of Zweig's letters, which help us understand the cul-de-sac he saw himself in, and interesting archive footage that includes Orson Welles filming his Brazillian unfinished documentary "It's All True" (1941/1942) and Brazilian then-President/dictator Getúlio Vargas, who wanted Zweig to write his biography (Zweig wouldn't compromise and kindly but firmly declined).
This short documentary is a must for anyone interested in Zweig, though once again it must be said it's not about his life or work, but about his final years and tragic suicide. Director Sylvio Back would return to Zweig's final days in 2002, in a fictionalized feature film version called "Lost Zweig", with Rüdiger Vogler (once Wim Wenders' favorite actor) in the title role. My vote: 7 out of 10.
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